The History of Japanese Game Developers, as told to John Szczepaniak

I’m nowhere near done making a first pass through the 1st volume, and now here the 2nd volume of “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers” has arrived – and this one is in color!

TheseGamesIPlay_20151111_Szczepaniak_books_v1_v2

That link will take you to the color version of the 2nd volume, which I definitely prefer, but there’s also a monochrome one available. It’s also available on Amazon US and UK, if you’d rather get it there, but the mark up is a little more and maybe John doesn’t get quite as much from the sale. He says that while he material for it, whether he will do the 3rd volume depends on how this one does. I would really like to see the 3rd volume come out! You can read more about the contents of the first volume, and the DVD (of which some amount will be making it’s way to Youtube soon,) at Hardcore Gaming 101, and also more about the 2nd volume.  Szczepaniak has been writing for HG101 for a good while, and in part thanks to his contributions the site has become a frequent stop of mine.

Tangentially relating to my own current project, HG101 is where I recently learned about “Outfoxies” (if I remember right, I got there from “Elevator Action“) which featured a rare example of a playable character in a wheelchair (a pretty tricked-out mad-sciency custom wheelchair at that).

2017-05-05 16_17_13-Hardcore Gaming 101_ The Outfoxies

Screengrab from HardCore Gaming 101’s article on “Outfoxies,” about character “Professor Ching”

[ listened to while writing this brief post up: Daft Punk – Derezzed (Faidox Project remix)]

Learning about UV texturing

To continue making progress with this wheelchair accessibility sim, it’s time for me to start learning about UV texturing in Unreal Engine 4. Up to now, I’ve just been working with flat color materials (to simplify the process of figuring out issues like weird shadows, and because they work well with VR, etc.) but now I need to start making some signs.

Today I’ve started with an extremely simple sign. Method: In Blender, I added a cube to a basic rectangular bollard and shaped it to fit a common-dimension access notice sign. Then I assigned three materials to the mesh, for the post, sign and sign face. I unwrapped the mesh (Smart UV project, with some island margin) and baked the light map, then exported the light map. I opened the resulting PNG in Photoshop, and copied and transformed the access sign graphic onto the face region of the light map (which turned out to be facing the right way the first time) and saved that image back out as a new PNG. Back to Blender, I selected the sign face material in the Outliner, then opened the texture manager in the Properties window and created a texture with the new PNG, and re-baked the light map. Result:

Ayuma Project 1 work in progress

Ayuma Project 1 work in progress – bollard with wheelchair access sign texture applied

Not bad! Not very efficient though, in terms of work flow or system resources. The texture is large and I’m not using most of it, since in UE4 I’m actually using other flat materials, but it’s a start – the sign shows up and lines up. No doubt it’s a better plan in this case to make separate meshes just for the signs themselves, and then attach them to various post or other meshes.

Ayuma Project 1 work in progress

Ayuma Project 1 work in progress – access sign beside staircase.

One of many, many things I’ve come to know about in working on this project, in reading about signage I learned that New York City is changing to a modified, more kinetic version of the familiar wheelchair symbol – I will certainly be making up signs with this version. You can read more about the icon, and can donate to support their work, at the accessibleicon.org website.

Courtesy accessibleicon.org

Courtesy accessibleicon.org

Externally Referenced – Update, worked around

Regarding the slew of “externally referenced” build warnings I was receiving, I tried this work-around and it resolved all of them. I don’t know how, but it did. I just made a copy of the whole project folder, containing the .uproject file and all the content, using File Explorer (so, not using “Clone” in the Unreal launcher interface). Then I renamed that folder, and then searched for it and opened it in the launcher, and it built no problem. I still have a dozen or so other errors to clear up, but the 800+ “externally referenced” warnings are gone. A relief, I can keep my meshes separate from the project so I can keep track of their modifications separately.

Today I’m working on terrain, and adding another ramp type.

Wheelchair accessibility sim Ayuma Project 1 gets mentioned in Ars Technica article comments

A 3GB update to UE4.9 is downloading right now, and I took a quick break from pondering which anti-malware program to go to for the coming year to look at this blog’s stats, and noticed a spike with some incoming from Ars Technica. It turns out my VR-oriented wheelchair accessibility simulation project got a mention in the comments of the article “Virtually ready: Diving into VR’s most promising PC launch titles,” by Kyle Orland and Sam Machkovech (Sep 11, 2015).

Ars Technica VR article comment from user

Ars Technica VR article comment from user Ostracus: “Related in a way but one of the things VR may be good for is simulating what life in a wheelchair is like.”

The comment links to my first post about the project. What a happy surprise! Thank you, Ostracus. I don’t have an Ars Technica account yet, but in the meantime, if anyone that does have one sees this post and passes it on to them, I’d appreciate it.

The comment’s content provides a nice context for discussing some tricky issues; l will save that for a following post. The project has been on necessary hiatus for the summer, but now I am returning to it in earnest and will post more about progress as it goes.

Externally Referenced

Eight hundred ninety-nine “Externally Referenced” warning messages in Unreal Editor 4.9.0

(update)

Yesterday, I downloaded the new Unreal Editor 4.9 engine (currently 4.9.0) and opened my accessibility simulation project, which was working fairly well under 4.8. I have not been in UE 4.8 that much, as what time I’ve had available has mostly gone into learning Blender modeling a bit better, but the project was working fine under it. Moving to a new engine version is fairly painless; it just involves launching the engine, opening your project as a copy, and waiting a while to see what happens. Things looked okay, but when I opened the test map – 899 warnings! DANGER WILL ROBINSON

Fortunately, they nearly all look like the same “Externally Referenced” warning. I’m not sure what is the problem is, and the UE documentation is no help at all right now:

UE documentation, as of today, for

UE documentation, as of today, for “Externally Referenced” – blank.

It might be due to my having the meshes, created in Blender, stored in a different set of folders rather than in the project directory. When I first started, I made a lot of game projects using the base templates, messed with them and then removed them, and I certainly did not want to accidentally delete my meshes also, so they are in a different place. It’s a challenge; since I want this project to work well with the Oculus Rift and similar VR devices, I’m going to keep up with the engine changes rather than stay with a previous engine version, but the sense of fighting the downstream current can be profound. I will post a followup if I find a solution. Ever onward!

(update)

Development – Metal Arms: Glitch in the System

I don’t remember why I picked up Metal Arms for the first XBOX; I think it was on the strength of a review or discussion I’d come across, probably on a web site now gone. It’s been years since I’ve played it, and my copy has drifted off to relatives and beyond, so it’s not available for revisiting. What I do remember is how much I enjoyed playing it, and how I kept seeing it from a development perspective while doing so, so it was a real pleasure to read this talk about the story of its development by Jim Sterling on Destructoid:

What I think of first when I think of Metal Arms was the robot hacking mechanic, whereby Glitch would hack other robots to take over their functions, while simultaneously becoming a pile of ignored junk (something JC Denton wishes he could do when sending out his spy drone). The hacking is similar to the possession mechanic in Munch’s Oddysee, but I felt it was even more natural with Glitch – in part from a story perspective as electronics interface with each other every day. Of course, maybe sentient machines wouldn’t want to have obvious ports on them that other machines could easily take nefarious advantage of – I wonder what sort of social customs would develop around accessing these ports? – but it works for the game. Since in this real life we only get one fully realized perspective – our own – and methods for accessing the perspectives of others are terribly clumsy (like reading someone’s blog) it’s fun for me to imagine alternative scenarios. As an aside, Alastair Reynolds explores some of this territory in a potential human future with the Conjoiners, which I think must be destined to find their way into games someday (if not already; I don’t know).

I also remember Metal Arm’s general sense of fun, the humorous personalities, and a lot of clever touches. I had a great time with it and was hoping for more, so it is a bittersweet read to learn of the struggles, reception, and the eventual settling of the IP into the murk. Thank you, Jim, for writing this up and sharing it with us.

Ayuma Project 1: WIP peek

A brief update; picture first – current state of a testing map:

Ayuma Project 1 work in progress

The big building at the upper left will is an art exhibition space. Thanks to this tutorial, and this answerhub post that cleared up an issue I was tangling with, it has sliding pairs of entry and exit doors as a blueprint class. The way you add things into the blueprint matters; I also ran into a similar issue before with my vehicle blueprint for the wheelchair, where I didn’t get something properly attached to the wheel handler.

I’m usually listening to music while working; a couple I played this morning that stood out: My Parasol’s chill Spacetalk (live), and Spazzkid’s quick Random Flute Guy (both with cool videos). Thanks for reading 🙂

International Women’s Day, Google image searching, and older female characters in games

I’ve had a notion of a post pinging around in my head for a while, and as today is International Women’s Day, it felt like a timely moment to get to it. What I’ve been thinking is that I would really like to see some high-visibility game titles featuring an older, highly competent female professional woman, as the protagonist/avatar. I don’t mean as something you can make from character creation tools, like in Skyrim or Saints Row, which to their credit do let you do this; I mean a set protagonist with a pre-determined look, like Lara Croft or Nathan Drake, and for the game to be truly centered on her story. (I’m seeing something like this myself: broad strokes, I’m thinking she’s Bolivian+Peruvian, CEO of an private, multinational company with headquarters in the San Isidro district in Lima…a bit Largo Winch adventure, a bit Noble House intrigue…the senior staff is skilled and loyal…her control of the company is being seriously threatened by the maneuverings of a rival firm that has secured a family connection to the political leadership…)

Okay, so, I wanted some photos to go with the post; I’d saved just a couple to my drive already to help develop my line of thinking, but they’re stock photos and I wanted open licensed ones.  So, just as a first foray, I try a Google image search for professional business woman older “creative commons,” which turns up:

Google image search result for 'professional business woman older "creative commons"'

Google image search result for ‘professional business woman older “creative commons”‘. Top two rows. More results here.

That is just the very top part of the results; I’ve preserved a lot more of the results here. Wow, this is clearly not what I was going for. That bleak first image heads an article on Business Insider entitled “I Started Saving For Retirement At Age 48 — And Still Retired Early.” (The photo itself is titled “The Old Lady was resting.”).  Why a predominantly gray-toned, down-angle, lonely shot for a relatively upbeat article? I wouldn’t predict seeing a shot of a similar aesthetic accompanying an article of a man retiring.  And how on earth is this the first image I get from those search terms?

Three of the results are not “older.” and there is a clear slice between stereotypical images of “older” and “professional” going on, as well as quite a bit of sadness. Going further down through the results is dispiriting, including a lot of babies, a woman lighting a glass pipe, a woman applying mascara, Steve Jobs, high heels, really a lot of babies, a some dogs, bridges, cows, women out shopping, and more babies.

So, I try female business leaders “creative commons” and this is the top result:

"Business Meeting"

“Business Meeting”, Credit: thetaxhaven on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

A man reaching past an out-of-focus woman to shake hands with another, older man. This is from an article entitled “World is Ready for Male-Female Leadership Mix” on WomensNews.org. I have not words; I will reiterate, this is the TOP result (that I get) for female business leaders “creative commons”. Here is the first couple rows; I have again preserved quite a bit more of the results in a larger image.

Google Image search result of "female business leaders 'creative commons'" - top rows, (click through for more)

Google Image search result of “female business leaders ‘creative commons'” – top rows, click here for more

Why are these not shots of women looking like leaders? The second shot is nicely business-oriented, but the woman is in a fairly static pose, thinking over some paperwork.  Top right, it’s David Cameron in focus. Bottom left is like a papparazi stalking shot. Bottom middle and right, it’s a man doing the talking. In every case, the women are in relatively passive positions – sitting, listening – and these are the top results! For leaders!  Scrolling down through the more complete results, we get more generic stock photography (again, for line-ups, often the man in focus), a lecture-hall seating shot of a man with his arms around two women and a tagline “Want to Help Women Achieve Leadership Roles? Bring on the Men” (the image seems to no longer be in the article) , a picture of Catherine Casserly, which does makes sense (ex-Creative Commons CEO) but the pose does not say “leadership”….some from Australian politics which at least finally have a “leader” aesthetic…this one, though, has this profoundly doublespeaky caption:

“[…] it should be asked: was she truly a female prime minister or a prime minister who was female?”

What? Seriously, what?

One of the stock shots finally has a woman in the front, in focus, standing in a confident pose that looks like she actually leads the other people in the shot, but it takes until the 23rd photo that I get the kind of dynamic image that approaches what I think should be first…and it’s a photo (which does not seem to be CC licensed, so I’m just linking to the Google storage of it) of Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” in an article on the Huffington Post entitled “Why Aren’t There More Women in Leadership Positions?” (yes, she is also in #3, but static and off-angle). This version of the photo seems to say it is okay for non-commercial use though, so here it is:

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Now I can’t help but try business leaders “creative commons” – will I get a mix?:

these_games_i_play_-_2015-03-08_14_47_42_top

Google image search result for “business leaders ‘creative commons'”. More results here.

Most emphatically, no. Certainly no pair of women reaching past an out-of-focus man to shake hands here. Actually a lot of politicians, a power tie and a very prominently held, ahem, cigar. Again, longer results here. 17 down before I get to the first woman – Sheryl Sandberg again.

So, now I know that Google has in the search tools an option to narrow the results by usage rights, so that is definitely going to come in handy from here on out. Right away, given the character concept above, and what I’ve seen so far, I try latin woman business suit podium:

Google image search for license "reuse with modification" and terms "latin woman business suit podium"

Google image search for terms “latin woman business suit podium” and licensed for reuse with modification

Oh, come on!

Let me just say, in closing, that I think it is high time to see more games with a protagonist (and I’m just going to put stock images with the watermarks here….) like this:6228939-closeup-of-a-smiling-senior-business-woman-using-a-cellphone-over-white-background
and this:

4472fbe6a46745451aa65a3a507a8af8

and this:

7058957-senior-businesswoman-using-mobile-phone-holding-personal-organizer-smiling

makeithappen

Ayuma Project: 1 – initial post

UPDATE: first test build now posted!

2015-03-03 12_44_15-If You Love Something, Set It Free - Nightly Yesterday I noticed in my Unreal Engine launch window that I had a credit, and in reading about why, I found out that Unreal Engine is going free because Epic loves it. This is probably a good move to, among other things, get nascent game developers using UE4 instead of relying on other free alternatives like Blender’s game engine. So, now is as good a time as any to post that I am working on a project with Unreal Engine 4, code named Ayuma Project: 1, with VR devices like the Oculus Rift as the major target. I was in on the kickstarter for the first developer’s edition of the Rift. l loved messing around with it, but I was still busy being sciency and also quickly got queasy using it. I saw an interesting future in it, though, and pre-ordered the DK2. Sitting in my swiveling office chair – in the way I envision the Rift will often be used – playing with the Tuscany demo, I arrived at the sense that it did not really feel like walking around. I was sitting, after all, so I thought it felt maybe a very little bit like (temporarily) sitting in a wheelchair. As I have touched on just a bit in this blog so far, I believe video games (or interactive simulations, first person experiences or whatever….despite my affection for etymology, terminology is not my focus here for now) have a great deal more potential to aid in personal development. One aspect of self-development, as I see it, is the cultivation of empathy, and this is is one area where games very often work against. Yet the Rift offers such a tantalizing opportunity to put yourself in another person’s position, to see the world from another point of view, and to come to understand better their challenges and opportunities. And so I came to decide on a wheelchair-use semi-simulator as my first learning project with the development tools. I say semi-simulator because I will work to have things grounded in reality as much as possible, though I do not have the programming skills to develop a fully fleshed-out sim. I do have some experience with Blender from my biology work, making animations from atomic microscopy data, but this did not involve model-making…I imported generated models to Blender and then used its camera-pathing and rendering tools to make 3D movies. I have, over the years, had some occasions to use Autocad, CadKey, Solidworks, and the like, though at novice level, so starting in on modeling has been an adventure. I started with this image of standard measurements:

standard wheelchair dimensions

Wheelchair standard dimensions – taken from an accessibility design article that I have not yet found back.

and, after experimenting to learn how Blender and Unreal units relate with respect to importing, began to build up a very basic wheelchair to the dimensions.

Ayuma Project: 1. Work in progress. Early wheelchair built in Blender.

Ayuma Project: 1. Work in progress. Early wheelchair built in Blender.

I debated making the chair manual, but at least to start with, felt like it would be more natural to go with an electric. But in working on an initial test level, I hit on a simulation focus opportunity – pre- and post-Americans with Disabilities Act public spaces. Since the ADA started coming into effect in the 70’s, I thought to make an electric wheelchair from the 50’s or maybe 60’s.  One of the earliest electric wheelchairs, for which there are some good reference images available online, was the Klein Drive Chair, invented by George Klein.

Klein Drive Chair

Klein Drive Chair (thank you to the National Research Council Canada for making this image set public)

So I imagined, what if someone handed over these pictures to a custom frame-maker and said, “make me a sturdy, purpose-built version of this.” And here is the result thus far, rigged and (mostly) working in UE4:

these_games_i_play_-_ayuma_project_1_-_2015-03-03_13_51_23-Wheelchair_AnimBP_

1950’s-style electric wheelchair work-in-progress, for Ayuma Project: 1, in its current state. Among things yet to be added are the control joystick, drive pulleys, and an occupant.

And a view from inside the Rift!

these_games_i_play_-_ayuma_project_1_-_2015-02-24_16_27_15-Greenshot

Ayuma Project: 1, wheelchair simulator, seen in the Oculus Rift.

As outlined, I arrived at this concept for a project from my own experience with the Rift as well as my own hopes for what video games can do. My only encounter with a player-used wheelchair in a game that I remember is with Munch from Munch’s Oddysee, a game I had for the XBox and played through twice, saving all the Fuzzles the second time through. What a great game!  I am happy to learn, though, that I am not the only one to think along these lines. Back in 2013, user “nikkmitchell” was working on an Oculus project then called “Wheels 0.2,” and had a demo working. You can watch some playtests of this game on Youtube, but it appears to no longer be in development, and you can tell from that video, it had something more of a game than sim orientation, though it did have an intro that wanted to help the player project their frame of mind to a wheelchair user’s perspective. And I saw in a post that there was a wheelchair simulator at Gamescon 2014.  I also recently saw the news of the Cerebro Experience, in which you supposedly sit in Professor X’s wheelchair, but I don’t think you move around at all. I’m sure there are others; I will work on differentiating this one further. Thank you for your time, and please stay tuned for future updates!

The Music of “The Sea will Claim Everything.”

A little while ago, a friend posted about Chris Christodoulou‘s score album for the game Risk of Rain. Though the genre of music, with a lot of hard-driving metal guitar, was not the sort of album I would listen to over and over, I had to check out Chris’s other albums, so I clicked on his score album for The Sea Will Claim Everything, and was entranced. I think my favorite track is Habanera of the Sun, and the name makes me smile. The whole album is lovely, and Bandcamp made it easy to buy it and download a high-quality version of the album.

Chris Christodoulou - The Sea Will Claim Everything, on BandCamp

Chris Christodoulou – The Sea Will Claim Everything, on Bandcamp