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July 17, 2009

Some cool–looking Star Wars toys and action figures

As a lowly webmonkey I rarely get to see the actual physical products we sell. I could buy them, but I’m not rich enough for that. So unfortunately I can only really go based on the lovely pictures that get loaded onto the website.

Since we’re supposed to be well-known for selling Star Wars things, and that we rank pretty badly for it, I’ve decided to find what I think are the best-looking upcoming Star Wars toys. This is all part of the experiment.

I’ll start with my personal favourite, this is the one that caught my eye and made me decide to make this post.

Imperial Shock Trooper

Technically this is related to the prequels (or clone wars cartoons) so by rights it should be rubbish. However, it looks bloody cool. The design is somewhere between clonetroopers and stormtroopers so I imagine it’s supposed to be a gradual progressions. But apparently this guy is a Shock Trooper, that sounds pretty impressive so I like to pretend he shoots lightning (rather than going with the boring conventional definition of shock trooper). The red colouring is what makes this figure stand out, and apparently he’s fully articulated. That’s right, not just partially articulated, but fully. Is there some sort of quality assurance board that governs whether an action figure can be considered fully articulated? I ask because I very much doubt he has a completely accurate human skeletal frame with all joints and motions.

He’s not cheap (about £70), but if you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to buy this kind of stuff, he’s worth a look.

Deluxe Imperial Shock Trooper at Forbidden Planet

Next up it’s the….


Quite similar to the Shock Trooper, but it’s a true original trilogy style Storm Trooper, who happens to be a bit dirty, this makes him into a Sandtrooper apparently. Since this stuff is all made up anyway, I guess I can accept that a Sandtrooper is different to a Stormtrooper and this isn’t just an attempt to cash in by making numerious variations of exactly the same model.

He’s more expensive than the Shock Trooper (coming in at a hefty £75) and doesn’t look quite as cool, but still worth a look if you have more money than sense.

Deluxe Imperial Sandtrooper at Forbidden Planet

Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure: Mace Windu

Yeah that’s right, it’s Mace “I’m going to crash your party, bitches” Windu. The guy who made purple lightsabers the height of manly fashion is apparently now available as an “Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure”, whatever the hell that means. I can only assume it means he’s quarter the size of ol’ Samuel L himself, which would make this figure pretty big. By the looks of things he’s trying to force persuade you into buying his action figure, I guess he’d have to since it costs £75. Apparently he also has 25 points of articulation…

It looks like he also come with real cloth for clothing, this basically means you’re paying £75 for a Barbie.

Ultimate Quarter Scale Figure: Mace Windu at Forbidden Planet

Challenge time

Find me the highest number of points of articulation that an action figure has ever had, you are not limited to humanoids. I guess some sort of giant worm or dragon action figure might be the winner here.

There’s lots of other things, but frankly these were the ones that looked the best to me. If you’re really interested in seeing everything else, I guess you could always visit this convenient link that lists all of the Star Wars toys that we sell on the interwebs

Not everything costs as much as £70, though some of it a lot more. £50-70 seems to be the sweet spot for things that look good but are also in the realm of affordability.

I was serious about the points of articulation thing, I want to know.

Pondering Ponderousness

I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog for a while, mostly because I have a proper site (that happens to be being rebuilt) as well.

I’m thinking I might start using this blog for general rants, whilst keeping my main site as a more professional gubbins. I’m also thinking I could use it to highlight any cool stuff I spy my company selling. We sell all sorts of cool action figures, statues and comics, some of which look pretty cool – even if I can’t actually afford any of it myself :(

I’ve been trying to push the idea of a more community-oriented section of our site for over 2 years now. The main argument being that by providing valuable content, you are going to encourage a lot more inbound links as well as a positive attitude towards the company. When you compare this with sending our numerous newsletters per week which just list products, and have a site with over 20,000 products but no opinion… the benefits are obvious. In this day and age, transparency and a human face are going to do a lot more for boosting traffic than wearing out your existing customers.

My previous 2 posts here were largely to prove a point (though the results are obviously skewed due to the obscenely high scoring that Google seems to give .ac.uk domains). Permitting for different Google servers (each server has different rankings for pages because changes take a long time to propogate across them all), I’ve managed to boost us from page 4 to 1 of UK searches and from virtually unranked to page 1 of worldwide. Obviously this is only for a very specific set of keywords and I had to write some very targetted content (and links), but I hope it’s proved my point – inbound links are everything, and if you provide content that people want to link to, you’re on to a winner.

So I’m tempted to keep using this blog to push certain parts of the site, but only to the stuff I genuinely think is cool. I have no intention of turning this into a marketing portal and I would kind of like to return to the entertaining kind of posts that used to be so common across Warwick Blogs.


July 08, 2009

Uh oh, I did it again :( (more Urban Vinyl and Art Toys)

Follow-up to Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys are expensive and look cool from Andy's Dumb Ramblings

...I bought 3 more Monskeys

Monskey Army

Apparently the red one loves nature and hates waste. The diver one loves diving and hates sharks. Personally I think he picked the wrong sport if he hates sharks.

I’ll try not to buy any more, 4 is enough methinks…

I also have a secret agenda here, I’m testing the effect a blog post has on google rankings. Trying to encourage my employer to interact with the internets a little more proactively. Though to be honest, I think it would be worthwhile even if it didn’t affect our rankings in any meaningful way.

I’m curious as to whether Warwick Blogs are still as powerful in Google as they used to be, I remember when I was the number one search result for Threats to Global Peace.

So here’s the rest of our Urban Vinyl

July 06, 2009

Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys are expensive and look cool

Hello, it’s me again.

Why am I posting here and not on my real site? Because I’m redeveloping it. And when it’s finally launched, you too will be able to see that it should never have taken as long as it has.

Anywho, in the last couple of years I’ve been slowly exposed to the scary world of Designer Toys / Urban Vinyl / Art Toys (whatever the hell you want to call them). No, I’m not talking about edgy urban music ‘records’. I’m talking about the odd craze where artists take a prefabricated vinyl (plastic) figure and art the shit out of them (yes, that is a technical term). Sometimes they’ll even design their own vinyl figure first, and sometimes they won’t even use vinyl, they’ll make plush toys. What a crazy world.

Anyway, I finally took the plunge and bought one of the cheapest vinyl figures I could find. It’s a “Monskey” and his name is “Teakia”. According the packaging he likes fire and hates noise. He also believes we all have psychic powers. In many ways he’s a lot like me.

Here’s a picture of him:

Unfortunately there’s also a boatload of almost identical monskeys with different designs, this is why I’m going to be very poor. Even more poor than I am thanks to living in London and earning a non-London wage.

Here’s a link to a whole bunch of other urban vinyl monskeys

There’s an unbelievable amount of urban vinyl, so it’s lucky I’m not one of those guys who gets hooked on collecting stuff. No wait, you’re the one who doesn’t get hooked, I’m the one who does… Unfortunately most of it costs a fortune. You can even get a 18 inch tall white monkey thing that you can doodle all over designer toys, art toys, and urban vinyl 18 inch Mega Munny at Forbidden Planet) ... seriously, who comes up with these ideas?

Also, it’s my birthday soon so buy me lots of nice things. Yes Mannion and Widge, I mean you.

June 26, 2009

Sugar on a Stick

Writing about web page http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Sugar_on_a_Stick

Today I had a quick go of Sugar on a Stick, the liberated version of the software that runs on the One Laptop Per Child computers. It’s pretty good and I can see where it would come into its own if it’s wirelessed up with a classroom full of other laptops, all chatting and learning and stuff. For me the best thing was dancing back in time to that day, once a year, when the teacher would drop this round robot on the ground and get us to program it to move forward and turn right. That’s right, the LOGO Turtle. Consequently I had retro fun using the Turtle Art software that’s included with a reminiscent tear of joy trickling down my beautiful face.


Fig 1. Witness my procedural vector text rendering prowess.

There is also a 2D physics playground app where you can draw shapes and watch them fall over and basically smash shit up. It’s pretty good and I’m usually all in favour of smashing things up but I dunno; not sure if kids should be learning science and getting all knowledgeable. They might grow up clever and make us look really stupid.

If you want to try it you can find some old dusty computer that’s not running very well and maybe use this to give it a bit of life, or you can do what I done and use VirtualBox to make it appear as a little virtual computer in a window, inside my real computer. I know, creepy.

April 24, 2009

Star Trek is a good reboot, if slightly inconsistent

Star Trek
4 out of 5 stars

Woo, first entry in over 2 years!

This Wednesday I saw the new Star Trek film, having seen the trailers and casting choices I had high hopes, thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.

The film does its best to be a logical reboot, basically it is designed to transition from the time period (and events) of the TNG/DS9/Voyager era to the date of Kirk’s birth. It’s not a huge spoiler (since it happens in the first 5 minutes), but basically the circumstances surrounding Kirk’s birth change significantly creating a whole new Trek universe without the heavy-handed erasure that happens with most reboots.

There are a few inconsistencies that can’t be explained by the reboot, like why the standard starfleet insignia is the enterprise one before the events of TOS, or why Spock is now the creator of the Kobayashi Maru test when Wrath of Kahn implies he didn’t (debatable though). The way Kirk wins it is changed too, he still cheats but the approach taken demonstrates the difference in his upbringing, and the consequences are very different.

The casting is for the most part excellent, Spock and Kirk in particular. Characters like Uhura, Checkov and Sulu are fleshed out in such a way to demonstrate that they really are the best at what they do – something that never really featured heavily in TOS or the old movies. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance as Old Spock isn’t just fan service, he is fairly integral to the plot. Scotty is very much just Simon Pegg playing a stereotype. Despite being entertaining, he’s character who’s played furthest from the original.

The main issue with the plot is that it basically exists as a method of justifying the reboot, if the events of the film didn’t happen there would be no reboot universe to speak of. What unfolds during the film significantly changes the balance of the Federation to the degree that future films (and even televion series) can be made without the feeling that you’re just rewatching the story you’ve already seen on TV years ago.

Despite the dark events of the film, it’s very lighthearted in tone. It’s very much an entertaining (and humorous) action-adventure that doesn’t really touch on the heavy political issues and serious plotlines of the later shows.

Summary: Watch it, even if you’ve never seen or don’t like previous Star Treks.

July 02, 2008

Wine for Windows?!

Writing about web page http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=6241&package_id=112520

Probably nothing new to a lot of people, but I just spotted that the wine website has binary downloads for Windows.

Admittedly I can think of a couple of uses for this, but that doesn't really take away from the initial "wtf?" I got when I found out.

I wonder if it runs cygwin... :-)

(For anyone wondering what I'm blathering about, wine is a compatibility layer used for running Windows programs on Unix - or in this case, running Windows programs on Windows)

March 11, 2008

Awesome Game

Writing about web page http://www.gamemakergames.com/?a=view&id=907

Jumper 2 is a very well made 2D platformer. It’s a game I’ve been playing for nearly a year now and I haven’t got bored of it. It has to be the only game where you can die 6735 times and still want to come back for more.
The learning curve is excellent and the levels are really well designed. I think it would be worth checking it out as a masterclass of how to make a game simple but fun, and even if you don’t stick with it I think a lot can be learnt from the game.
It’s so good, I even made a facebook group – http://warwick.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2363717729

February 22, 2008

48 Hour Competition February 2008

Writing about web page http://www.warwickgamedesign.co.uk/resources/view/competitions/48hour/feb2008

On the weekend of the 9th February we held another of our famed 48 hour game development competitions.  The idea is simple - teams of people begin at 6pm on the Friday evening and have 48 hours in which to create a game from scratch.  To provide inspiration, each of the games has to be based on a specific theme, this term's theme was transport.  The games are available on this page! We had a lot of fun making them, we hope you have fun playing them!

Teams making gamesCompetitions like this are a very social event, we hire out a room for the weekend and everyone joins in with a team of people.  It's interesting to see how the other teams are progressing throughout the competition and to share ideas on design and improvements. 

Discussing C++It's also a great way to learn about making games, for many people in the society the first chance they got to build a complete game was at one of these competitions.  We have books and resources available for people to learn from, and it's not just for programmers!  There are books on game art and a graphics tablet for people who want to try their hand at artwork, and sound and music equipment and software for the more musically inclined.  All these different skills are useful if not essential when putting a game together. 

Take a look at the games we made and tell us what you think!  Next week the judges from Rareware and FreeStyleGames will be giving us their thoughts, and we'll be awarding a ton of prizes provided by:

The Game Creators

Vivendi Games


February 11, 2008

Raytracing: Intersection with a sphere

Follow-up to Raytracing: Intersection with a plane from Nick's blog

Last time I went through intersection of a ray with a plane. Plane’s are all well and good, but you can’t have a ray tracer without spheres everywhere :-)

This article’s another maths-heavy one I’m afraid – more vectors and dot products, this time with a quadratic equation thrown in at the end. Enjoy.

Equation for our ray:

P = O + Dt

(P is the position, O is the origin of the ray, D is the direction of the ray, t is the parametric variable)

Equation for a sphere:

(x - C_x)^2 + (y - C_y)^2 + (z - C_z)^2 = r^2

(x, y and z represent points around the surface of the sphere, C is the centre of the sphere, r is the radius of the sphere)

As with the plane intersection in the previous article, we solve the equations simultaneously, setting P = (x,y,z).

First we’ll rewrite the sphere equation in vector form. Summing the squares of the x, y and z components is the same as the dot product.

(P - C) \cdot (P - C) = r^2

Now substitute in the equation for our ray:

(O + Dt - C) \cdot (O + Dt - C) = r^2

We’re trying to solve for t, so let’s break up the above equation using the distributivity of the dot product:

(O + Dt - C) \cdot O + (O + Dt - C) \cdot Dt + (O + Dt - C) \cdot (-C)= r^2

Now extract the Dt terms:

(O - C) \cdot O + (O - C) \cdot Dt + (O - C) \cdot (-C) + (Dt) \cdot O + (Dt) \cdot (Dt) + (Dt) \cdot(-C) = r^2

Collect like terms:

(O - C) \cdot O + 2(O - C) \cdot Dt + (O - C) \cdot (-C) + (Dt) \cdot (Dt) = r^2

Now if we take the scalar t outside of the dot products, and move the r squared to the left hand side we get:

(O - C) \cdot O + (O - C) \cdot (-C) + t(2(O - C) \cdot D) + t^2(D \cdot D) - r^2 = 0

Which we can solve using the quadratic formula

  a = D \cdot D = 1 \\  b = 2(O - C) \cdot D \\  c = (O-C) \cdot O + (O-C) \cdot (-C) - r^2 = (O-C) \cdot (O-C) - r^2

This is where I notice that I’ve reused “C” as a variable name – don’t get confused between “C” for centre” and the “c” in the quadratic formula.

Here I’ve also simplified A and C. A is always 1 in this case, as the direction of our ray “D” is normalised. I’ve also combined C into a single dot product.

Here’s the quadratic formula, which we can simplify by removing the “a” multiplicand.

t = \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a} \\  = \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4c}}{2}

The rest is just a case of plugging in your values.

In order to solve this, you should check the value of the determinant (the bit inside the square root). If it’s < 0 then we have no real solutions, and therefore no intersections.

If the determinant is >= 0, then you need to check both solutions to the equation(-b + ... and -b – ...). We want the closest (lowest value) positive solution. A -ve value means the intersection is behind the ray. Also, if you have one +ve and one -ve solution, then your ray has been cast from inside the sphere.

One final thing worth noting is that there are special methods used to compute quadratic solutions which help to reduce the effect of rounding errors.

Ok, well hope that makes sense. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Next post will probably cover lighting, so you can actually get planes and spheres in colour!

February 02, 2008

3D Modelling Workshop

Sam ran a very helpful workshop on 3d modelling last Wednesday. We used Blender3D because it is free and is also very powerful. You can download it here : Blender3D

We went through the basics, creating the polygons for the model, then texturing it and some people did a bit of animation too. Here is my initial attempt at making a spaceship:
First Attempt

I then added some more polygons and started doing the texture mapping:
UV Mapping in Blender

I did eventually get to make a texture for it, but for some reason it won’t map to the model on my home computer so you will not be able to see it in all its glory. The help sheet for this is available here: Resources

Give it a go!

February 01, 2008

Raytracing: Intersection with a plane

Follow-up to Raytracing: A (Very) Brief Introduction from Nick's blog

Last time I mentioned that rays are cast from the eye point. This isn’t much good of course unless you can tell what the ray collides with. So here’s an idea of how to check for the intersection of a ray and a flat plane.

Representing our objects

Here’s the mathsy bit. If you’ve covered vectors before, then I think it should be reasonably easy to follow. Let me know if you have any questions or spot any mistakes.

The Ray

We can represent our ray with an origin, and a direction. Both of these are 3-dimensional vectors. It will come in handy later if our direction is normalised (has a length of 1).

We can then represent the path the ray takes as a parametric equation in t.


(P is the position, O is the origin, and D is the direction).

Because our direction vector is normalised, t is also the distance the ray has traveled from the origin.

The Plane

Representing a plane is a little less intuitive, but we can do it using a (3D) vector to represent the normal to the plane, as well as a value to represent the distance to the origin (in the direction of the normal). Note: this is the distance to the origin at (0,0,0) rather than the origin of the ray mentioned above.

e.g. if we look down the Z-axis from 0 in the positive direction, we could represent a wall 10 units away with a plane with a normal of (0,0,-1) and a distance of 10.

The general equation for a plane is:


Where a, b and c are the x, y and z components of the normal, and d is the distance to the origin. To make the later equations more concise, we’ll rewrite the plane equation in vector form as:


(P is the position, N is the normal, and d is the distance from the origin. Also the dot is the dot product)

The Maths

As we’ve already established, t is the distance the ray has travelled from the origin. What we want to do now is find out how far the ray has travelled if/when it intersects our plane. We can do this by solving the ray and plane equations simultaneously.

Starting with the plane equation:

Substitute in the ray equation:


The dot product is distributive, so we can do this:


The dot product also lets us take multiplied scalar arguments outside the brackets like so:


Now shuffle it around a bit…


A bit more…


Super! Now we have the distance the ray has travelled when it hits the plane. We can plug this value back into the ray equation to get the intersection point in 3D coordinates too.

If the ray doesn’t hit the plane then both the numerator and denominator of the above equation are 0.

If you’d implemented what I’ve said so far, you would probably have a screen with half white (for the intersection hits) and half black (for the misses). So what we need now is some colour, or a slightly more interesting primitive to draw.

So, next time I’ll probably cover intersection with a sphere or how to colour your object with some simple lighting equations. Any preferences? I’ll probably do them both anyway.

January 29, 2008

Raytracing: A (Very) Brief Introduction

I’ve recently started writing a basic ray tracer, and thought I’d write a bit about how they work.

The basic idea of ray tracing is to generate a 2D image (or series of images) from a 3D scene by simulating how rays of light travel.

One important difference here is that instead of simulating rays cast from a light source and eventually hitting the eye/camera, a ray tracer will generally cast rays backwards from the eye, taking information from light sources at the end. This means we don’t have to simulate all the rays coming from each light source, most of which we don’t see (i.e. they don’t hit the eye).

Rays are cast from the eye though a plane, which represents our render target, with one ray for each pixel of the render target.

The ray tracer then determines the (nearest) intersection of the ray with the scene geometry. From here we can cast secondary rays to simulate reflection, refraction, etc. Also rays can be cast directly to the light sources in the scene. These rays (which may in turn spawn other rays) are all combined to give a colour for the ray. This colour is then applied to the pixel that the ray was cast through.

That just about covers my basic introduction. I intend to write a few more articles on this, the next of which will probably cover how to determine intersections between rays and geometry. Bring your maths hats.

January 28, 2008

Animation, the Two

Follow-up to Animation from Half Ninja

Thus endeth the January Monthly Challenge. A slightly more convincing walk; he looks like he’s walking somewhere now… maybe trying to get to Waitrose to pick up some cabbage before it closes.

(3 seconds)

Ankle bending, head bobbing, and a more springy demeanour all make for a more natural walk, even if he does still look like a bit of a goon. There’s always room for improvement though, and the next room contains animations longer than 3 seconds, with things other than a few steps along an imaginary boardwalk.

January 22, 2008


Writing about web page http://www.blender.org/

After quite a while away from doing any 3D animation, I decided to get back into it with Blender, which is free and has come an awfully long way since I first downloaded it 4 or 5 years ago.

I keep getting distracted from actually finishing anything so I’ve decided to set monthly targets. Hopefully blogging it up will encourage me too, and maybe even motivate somebody else who has an interest in 3D but thought the software would be too expensive. January’s target is to make a character rigged up with a skeleton, with a walk cycle. I went with a classic two-legged ball character to keep things simple.

Early model, testing the variable reflection (fresnel) on the eye.
Just got the model rigged, some simple motion to test it out. Also put in an HDR light probe for an environment map, as it’s an easy way to make shiny things look sweeet.
Walk cycle that I did tonight… only has a few keyframes so it’s pretty robotic motion; hopefully before the end of the month I can tweak it to a more natural stride, with a bit more spring. The “antennae” wiggle in the middle of the walk, which is a separate “Action” in Blender; you can drag and drop multiple actions together to make characters wave while walking, etc.

After this I’ll probably start with a new model with arms and a face, as it’s hard to get any emotion out of this little dude. On the other hand, it might be good animation practice to get some interesting actions out of the limited actions available. If Pixar can get an angle-poise lamp to look confused, I’m sure it’s possible.

New Year

There hasn’t been any posts for a while since the guy who normally did them finished uni and left the society, I’m going to start posting updates as to what the society is getting up to, so watch this space.

September 03, 2007


Writing about web page http://www.fortawesome.co.uk/2007/saturday/

July 09, 2007

Game Demonstrations Event 2, Tuesday 19th June: a write up

by Jim Miles

One big difference about the game demonstrations event this time around is that now I’m Events Officer for the society. In practice, it’s not a big difference at all, but it’s nice to point it out and look all important.

This was really a 3 in 1 VGDSoc event, combining three things that have been promised for a while: another game demonstrations session, a video games quiz, and a barbecue. It took place at Bob Merrison’s awesome house again, in Kenilworth.

Bryan and TEAM PIRATE (Jon, Ricky, Dunk, and me) turned up at Bob’s house first and had a solid hour or so to mess about with the Xbox 360 (including our game Pirate Sea Battle) before Steve, Ali, Nic, Sam, Andrew, Jenny and Kieren arrived.

We started out with round one of the quiz that I made, which you can download here, then it was Ali up first to show off a game, none other than the awesome NiGHTs into Dreams (1996) on the Sega Saturn.

Woo I am NiGHTs a strange man alien person
The title screen

The plot of NiGHTs concerns two children who have nightmares which hold them back from achieving their goals (one wants to be a basketball player and the other a singer) but each night they go into a dreamworld where Mr NiGHTs (the purple, Twi’lek-like chap) collects stars and pearls, and flies through rings. It’s a beautiful, unique gameworld which is graphically 3D but has 2D gameplay, weaving around the themed levels. We saw one of the first levels set in a standard Green Hill Zone-like grass and hill area but then later Ali showed us an impressive snow level. The bosses we saw were the iconic “Puffy” – a round ball-like female who must be grabbed and launched through walls – and “Clawz” – a cat who lives in a strange circular structure with fireworks which must be flown into before he can be beaten. NiGHTs is an interesting game because it came out at a time when many titles were still following the conventions of the 16-bit and PC 3D era, but was itself entirely original, with a completely new style of plot and gameplay. This is some of the best linking, score attack gaming ever produced.

Link as many pearls stars and hoops together as you can
I want to get away; I want to flyyyyy away.

Next was the music round of the quiz, which I was particularly pleased with. You can check out the music below – there are ten excerpts of game soundtracks in there, to be identified:


It was me to show a game after that: the excellent, difficult, and highly-collectable Radiant Silvergun (1998). Radiant Silvergun is a scrolling shoot ‘em up from high quality game developer Treasure. It came out three years before Ikaruga and is much more complicated than that game, as well as being much more difficult. While Ikaruga was being developed it was known as the sequel to Radiant Silvergun, which is about right. At the event I described Radiant Silvergun as the Tristram Shandy of scrolling shoot ‘em ups for its sophistication and awareness of the genre it belongs to, to the extent of gross parody of its peers. In Radiant Silvergun there are bosses which serve as both fun challenges but also are, in themselves, whole references to other iconic scrolling shooters. For example, the boss pictured here has weapons mirroring the three main weapon types available in R-Type.

Me being well skilful

A delightful touch is that with each boss there are three pieces of advice under the heading “BE ATTITUDE FOR GAINS”. These three bits of advice are cryptic at best, incomprehensible at worst. In the pictured boss the three attitudes for gains are:
Anxious for return
Gamely fight
Tender hearts

Another boss later in the game has the following attitudes for gains:
Brave for enter bosom
Placate to animal
Wild camera

It’s crazy. You can read more of the attitudes for gains on the FAQ here. There are far too many details and subtleties in Radiant Silvergun to go into detail here (and anyway, I feel like, having made the Ikaruga comparison, I’ve already done my job) but one thing I would just like to mention is that there are several little dogs hidden about the levels which you uncover with a particular weapon, locked on specific pieces of scenery. These dogs give a little “woof woof” and reward the player with points. Very nice.

After Radiant Silvergun it was time was the third round of the quiz (see here): more questions. Each set of questions was divided into about equal amounts of easy, medium and hard, with one true or false Miyamoto question in each medium set and one Final Fantasy question in each hard set, just for a bit of a fun pattern.

Thats my hand on the right holding questions
Bob Merrison ponders a question of pen-suck-worthy difficulty.

BRYAN GALE was next, showing We Love Katamari (2005) on the Playstation 2. A game where you roll a ball around, attaching objects and making the ball larger and larger (and able to pick up larger objects), Katamari is a unique title with a beautiful art style that is knowingly cartoon-like. The game attracted a lot of attention and oohing and ahhing from those assembled, as the ball grew to laughably absurd sizes.

The levels are requests from fans of the original game, such as this blue elephant.

Katamari is often cited by developers as an example of a truly original game, and its creator Keita Takahashi has got a reputation as the game designer’s game designer, a darling of the industry, outspoken in his criticisms of the current direction of the medium. The attention is warranted, as Katamari has an interestingly environmental approach to gameplay, with amusing little incongruences such as the way that the people in the game seem to be relatively unbothered by their world being neatly cleaned up by this huge rolling ball – Katamari may seem silly, but it makes you THINK. More pretentious writers than me (they do exist) have even gushed about how the game permits an eco-friendly interpretation.

Bally roll roll roll
Roll the bally ball ball roll.

After Bryan’s fun demonstration of Katamari we had the fourth round of the quiz (the second special round), which I had been really excited about, and talking up for at least a week. Probably the best way to explain this round is to post a picture first:

Kick punch its all in the mind
“Woah man, where’s Parappa’s ears?”

On a forum I post on, we had a couple of weeks where we would do our own MS Paint interpretations of game screenshots then post them up for people to guess. This round in the quiz was a collection of 35 or so of these screenshot interpretations which I had printed out for people to pass around and try to guess.

I really loved that round of the quiz, and I think other people did too – especially the screenshot from Dizzy.

I was the next person to show a game after this, because the Playstation 2 was already set up, and my second game to show was Frequency (2002), a Playstation 2 game. I wanted to show this because it was the first rhythm action game made by Harmonix, long before Guitar Hero. As we play Guitar Hero a lot at socials, it seemed like a good idea to show people what the company started out with, as it’s an interesting insight into how Guitar Hero crystallised.

In Frequency you use the shoulder buttons to make sounds, as symbols approach the foreground, just like the notes on frets in Guitar Hero. However, the sounds are incredibly varied, with drum beats, synths, guitars, and even vocal lines mapped onto lines of on-screen symbols. What is so elegant about Frequency is how a channel of a track “sticks” after you have played two bars perfectly, and you can move onto another channel, building up the song gradually from the component parts (a range of drums, vocals, guitars, etc.). The game really opened my ears to how music is constructed, and I found it changed how I listened to music, picking out the individual instruments more meaningfully than I had before.

You can play spot the difference with this and the Radiant Silvergun picture above (clue: look at the table)

And here’s a bonus, an interpretive screenshot of the game.

We had the final round of the quiz (here), then Ali showed the independently produced PC shmup Platypus (2005). This demonstration was special because of the sheer amount that Ali knows about the production of the game. One classic anecdote concerned the creator’s house burning down and him having to build huge parts of the game from scratch. Now, it’s irritating having to build parts of a game from nothing at the best of times, but when your game is Platypus, where every object is painstakingly constructed from plasticine, captured on film, and animated into the game, the experience must be impossibly painful. To the creator’s credit, he turned out a brilliant shmup, which uses the mouse control in a sensitive way, breaking out of the 8 way directional control standard of traditional shmups and giving a new sense of bullet dodging finesse. If you want to know more about this game, I suggest you discuss it with Ali over a pint – his enthusiasm for Platypus is unbounded, and he’ll do a much better job of explaining it than I could here.

Bob is the only one looking at the camera
Clockwise from bottom left: Bryan, Ricky, Steve (sneezing?), Dunk (why the clenched fists?), Nic, Bob (the only one looking at the camera), me (“that’s not the right answer, lol”), Ali (must. concentrate. on. game.).

You can see what the game looks like in the mirror above Bob’s head.

Platypus was the last game demonstration, but there was still one more thing… The quiz answers! People wanted to know how they’d done, and everyone seemed particularly keen on finding out what the tracks were in the music round. We went through it together with each team (of two) marking another team’s answers. You can see the answers here, if you’ve been playing along at home.

And the winners were… Bryan and Sam. So well done.

The demonstrations session was over, the quiz was over, we’d had delicious barbecued food throughout, and Jenny had brought some yummy home-baked cakes, but there was one last thing which no meet since the 8th December would be complete without…


SteveM has a halo
I’m a little teapot, etc.

You can read about the first Game Demonstrations event here.

March 13, 2007

Panel discussion with Rare re–scheduled for this week

rare-logo-001_tn.jpgWe're very pleased to announce that on Thursday 15th March (week 10), Warwick Video Game Design Society will host an interactive panel discussion with three programmers from Rare; creators of Viva Pinata, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power and of course Goldeneye. The discussion will feature Nick Burton, an expert on graphical effects programming, as well as Kieran D'Archambaud and (maybe) Steven Horsburgh - AI programmers responsible for Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo.

There is no particular theme for the discussion but expect it to focus on the technical aspects of graphics and AI in modern game development, as well as some discussion of the games industry in general and the directions it is heading in. We anticipate that the guys will bring along an XBox 360 so they can demonstrate some of the things that are talked about. It should be a really interesting session, so please come along if you're free! 

The event takes place at 1-3pm on Thursday 15th March in Meeting room 4/5 in Union North.  Don't feel any obligation to stay for the whole thing, but it should be really interesting!

You may also be interested to know that the Rare guys are giving guest lectures earlier in the day: Nick will be presenting "Real Time Graphics for Games: A Primer" for the 3rd year Computer Graphics module at 9am in L3.  Kieran and Steven are presenting "Smoke & Mirrors - the True Art of Game AI" for the 3rd year AI module at 10am in H0.52.  Everyone is welcome, not just those taking the modules.

Hope to see everyone there on Thursday!

March 10, 2007

Time Cat

I’ve just had a text from Natalie from the top of a mountain, standing on a snowboard and loving it. Excellent news.

But to the main topic of this ‘ere written entry. For some reason or another my Duck game hasn’t seen a lot of development; it was going quite well and I can’t remember why I stopped. It’s usually just as I have to code the hard bits and Sam’s asking for extravagant features to do with flapping.

So, anyway, we’ve started on Time Cat. This is a game about a cat; it’s a platformer, and it looks like this at the moment.

Time Cat screenshot
Time Cat is somewhat stuck.

Note similarity to Duck Game, only without the isometric view that’s hard to program. The game is based around an idea that Sam’s had for years, about a cat who aimlessly stumbles through a series of time portals, serendipitously altering the course of humanity.

Please, talk to me about technology

Very well. It’s in C# again using Irrlicht.Net for the graphics and stuff, and part of Tao so that we can use SDL Mixer for sound. Oh, and our data format is JSON thanks to the Newtonsoft library that nicely serialises regular objects to JSON and back again. And we’ve just added NUnit to the project so we can do unit testing (as approved by Kent Beck himself). The unit testing has mainly proven just how difficult it is to properly arrange a game engine so that it’s suitable to be unit tested (without having to initialise the entire engine for every test).

All in all I think we’ve satisfied our lust for using an excessive number of 3rd party libraries. I’ve looked vaguely at just finding a 2D engine that someone’s already made and using that, but Dan calls me a douchebag for suggesting such a thing. Such a thing indeed. But one day.

As far as C# is concerned it’s proven officially fast enough for such a game; we thought it was slowing down massively when adding a lot of tiles but it was just the debug mode causing it to go slow. C# events are also hella useful because the Observer pattern is hott, as are delegates.

Please, stop talking about technology

My pleasure. So what about the game itself? It’s not set to have particularly innovative gameplay other than the storyline; it’s just a platformer basically. But I think it’s good to try and finish something rather than continually drop projects in favour of trying something bigger. An example of this was when Nick and I started making a quick Asteroids game almost purely so we could finish any game, but in the end gave up after we’d decided to make it a networked, multiplayer Asteroids and got annoyed at packet latency and so on. We really are a bunch of idiots.

But the game’s coming on fairly well now, we’ve got it loading levels and it’s got a basic level editor that Dan’s done (with good use of various design patterns thanks to me continually shoving them metaphorically down his programming throat).

In summary then: the end.


February 25, 2007

Panel Discussion with Rare next week: CANCELLED

Follow-up to Panel Discussion with Rare next week from The Video Game Design Society

Unfortunately Nick Burton and the guys from Rare have had to pull out of tommorow’s panel discussion due to tight deadline constraints. They’re planning to come to Warwick at some point next term instead, so we will re-organise the event then. Sorry for any disappointment.

February 22, 2007

Panel Discussion with Rare next week

rare-logo-001_tn.jpgWe're very pleased to announce that on Monday 26th of February (week 8), Warwick Video Game Design Society will host an interactive panel discussion with three programmers from Rare; creators of Viva Pinata, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power and of course Goldeneye. The discussion will feature Nick Burton, an expert on graphical effects programming, as well as the two AI programmers responsible for Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo.

There is no particular theme for the discussion but expect it to focus on the technical aspects of graphics and AI in modern game development, as well as some discussion of the games industry in general and the directions it is heading in. We anticipate that the guys will bring along an XBox 360 so they can demonstrate some of the things that are talked about. It should be a really interesting session, so please come along if you're free! 

The event takes place at 1pm on Monday 26th of February in room B2.13/14 (off of the science concourse, just along from L3). We expect it to last around an hour.

You may also be interested to know that Nick is giving a talk for the third year Computer Graphics module earlier in the day at 10am in MS0.1. Everyone is welcome, not just those taking the module.

Hope to see everyone there on Monday!


February 14, 2007


Dear You,

Happy Valentines Day!


From Andrew.

(Image obtained from VGCats.com)

February 11, 2007

Horrible Video

Here is a video of a mouse being eaten by a giant centipede. It’s icky.

Video doesn’t allow embedding, so clicky on it to watch it at youtube.

February 08, 2007

Public Service Announcement 2

I still hate snow, it’s still rubbish.