Saturday, December 6, 2008

Guerrilla CG: Subdivision Surfaces

I just barely finished my first video for The Guerrilla CG Project on Subdivision Surfaces.


Guerrilla CG: Subdivision Surfaces from Glen Moyes on Vimeo.

This video was quite unlike any other project I've done before. All but one animated sequence in this video was rendered by playblasting in Blender. I had to do some tricks like forcing Blender to use anti-aliasing in my graphics driver settings, and using chroma key to remove the background from each render so I could composite other elements together, which is something I usually never have to worry about. Anyway, the results turned out very well. I used After Effects for compositing and editing. It took me about 3 days to put the video together.

The next video I'll be doing do will be on topology.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The GuerrillaCG Project

Guerrilla CG is finally online. It hosts amazing videos that explain the fundamentals of computer graphics in a fun and easy to understand way. The videos are not software specific either, so you can watch them and take that knowledge to your 3D application of choice.

During college I taught Blender workshops for two years, and prior to that I did video tutorials for Blender. I learned that in order to teach people how to use the software I needed to spend quite a bit of time teaching the fundamentals first. So in my later workshops more than half the workshop concisted of myself doing a PowerPoint presentation. It turned out to be more effective, but we only had two hours of class a week, so I continued making video tutorials as part of the class so they could watch them at home. I put those videos on ShowMeDo so other people can watch them as well.

I was later contacted by Andrew Silke about a project he was working on called GuerrillaCG. He saw the stuff I did on ShowMeDo and wanted someone to help him out with the Fundamental Videos and put some Blender videos tutorials on there as well. I was blown away by the concept of the site and the quality of the videos, and felt flattered that professionals from places like Animal Logic actually got a hold of me to help them work on their projects. So I gadly accepted, and I'll be releasing video tutorials and concept videos for it soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What I've Been Playing: Far Cry 2, BG&E, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

A week ago I had 4 games on my wish list: Far Cry 2, Mirrors Edge, Left 4 Dead, and StarCraft 2. No one has any idea when StarCraft2 is going to be released, but the other three games are all coming out weeks apart from each other. I can't recall a time when 3 games I've been committed to buying for being so creative, well produced, and all-out awesome have all come out within a matter of weeks. There's one less game on my wish list because I'm now a happy owner of one of them, and the holiday season for gaming is looking bright.

Far Cry 2
I'm so happy I got this game. After my not so pleasant experience with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (read below) I was really hoping for another open world first person shooter. I usually wait until after the game is released before I buy it, but I've read good previews about Far Cry 2, and I wanted to save $5, so I went ahead and preordered it on Steam. I'm glad I did because the game rocks.

Visually the game is superb. The art direction goes for realism, so I can't say anything on artistic creativity, but they did it right (even has reflected light) and it runs faster than Crysis. It also has some really fun brush fire simulation that becomes an awesome and extremely entertaining battle strategy once you have the flame thrower. Just make sure you're not downwind when you start one. Even without the flame thrower fires can still be started by Molotov cocktails, exploding gas tanks, and the backblast from rocket launchers which I found out the hard way. Seriously, the fire simulation adds a whole lot to the game both tactically and viscerally.

They went through a lot of trouble to make the game immersive. The interface is minimal, healing is visualized by injecting yourself or pulling shrapnel out of your limbs, old weapons can jam which can happen at some hilariously bad times, and all the while you are fighting malaria, so occasionally the screen will go all sick-looking until you take your medicine. The music is well produced with acoustic instruments and African beats. The voice acting is also good. The accents can be thick so I feel like I should depend on the subtitles, but you can turn them off if you want.

The game world is huge, and they seem to want you to remember that because you have to do a lot of traveling. Sometimes a mission will be all the way across the map, and it can take you 10-15 minutes to get there with a vehicle. There are buses that will "teleport" you closer to your destination, but with most missions it doesn't help a whole lot. At least in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the quests are closer together, but in Far Cry 2 they can be anywhere, usually far away, and when traveling to your destination you will encounter several guard posts and maybe a random encounter or two, so that will slow you down. However, you can find hidden breifcases which contain diamonds and clear out safe houses so you can use them as save game points along the way so it's not all wasted time, but it does pad the game somewhat. It's a good thing that the game is as immersive as it is and that the combat is fun, because otherwise the travel would bug me. However, to my pleasant surprise after completing Act 1 there's appears to be a new area/county for each act, so you don't spend the whole game backtracking over the same locations. The game took me 37 hours to beat.

You pick up and purchase new weapons as the game progresses. At first the weapons are pretty basic, but you can then get things such as mortars, sniper rifles, stealth gear, flamethrowers, and other specialty weapons. You can only carry 3 weapons, one from each class, at a time in addition to your machete, so your choice in weapons completely changes how you play the game, which is how variation in combat is addressed.

The game also comes with a really simple and easy to understand editor for making multiplayer maps. So there's hours of fun ready to happen there.

Recommendation: Buy it. The game is huge, immersive, and fun. The story is pretty intriguing, ending is okay, wanted something more climatic considering how long the game was, but the ride was awesome.

Beyond Good and Evil
Beyond Good and Evil for $10 on Steam? Why not. It's one of those critically acclaimed games that didn't do well commercial for whatever reason (advertising most likely), and I hate it when games suffer such a fate. Because I feel the way I do about video games, I can't live with myself until I play it in it's entirety, which didn't take long (12 hours).

It's an old game so the graphics technology isn't impressive by today's standards, but the art direction and execution is. Great use of color, great character design, and I'm really impressed with how they handled vertex lighting in the environments. The music is also really good too. The game plays pretty well as far as performers go. The melee combat is nothing special but at least it's easy, and there's not a whole lot of combat to do. In the later stages it's mostly sneaking. The animation is good which is especially important when the game is in third person. The story is good but it had a couple of, "What? That made no sense," plot moments, but it wasn't bad enough to be a deal breaker.

If I could say anything bad about it, it might be that it's a adventure/platformer game that doesn't break a whole lot of new ground as far as gameplay, but it was solid nonetheless. The art direction, story, and use of a strong female protagonist is what set this game apart. It's worth getting just on those merits.

Recommendation: Great game, awesome art, awesome music, good story, plays like a platformer, has some wonderful story/action moments, and worth the $10. I recommend buying it so you can play through it once just so you can join the cool intellectual gamer crowd.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
This game has been recommended a lot of people and it was only $20 on Steam, so I gave it a whirl.

It's rather complex as far as first person shooters go. There's a lot of dialog, quests, inventory management, encumbrance (meaning that if you carry too much you'll slow down), hunger, bleeding, radiation poisoning, stamina, and other mechanics that give you a sense of urgency and realism. Adding that and the open world nature of the game with dangerous people and mutant wildlife really makes you feel vulnerable in a dangerous world, which emotionally pays off when you arrive at towns to turn in quests where things are relatively safe.

The big problem with S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which was a deal breaker for me, is that the game is buggy. Very buggy. So buggy in fact that even after applying all of the recommended fixes which included editing my Windows registry, I couldn't even play more than a few hours because I got so frustrated with the crashing that it would eventually crash every single time I entered the underground zone. I was going to wait for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky to see if they fixed that, but reviews said that it was still buggy. To be fair it's very likely that it's my system configuration (even though it's all top-brand parts), and most people after applying the fixes had no problems. It appears that I'm a very small percentage of unlucky ones.

So thank goodness for Far Cry 2 for my open world fix because S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was a breath of fresh air and complexity that I've been wanting from a game for a while. I was about to ask for a refund, but to be honest I don't mind because I vote with my money and I want people to make more games like it. So they can keep my $20.

Recommendation: Wonderfully bleak atmosphere, worth it if it won't crash your computer and you'll have to read up on some fixes that may work, and there's a prequel available, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky. I can't whole heartedly recommend the game because of the bugs, but I give it points for doing something different, and it's another one of those intellectual gamer crowd favorites.

* * * * *

And just to let you know, I updated the previous article on TrackMania and Painkiller with recommendations. I did in fact purchase TrackMania and I feel a little bit gypped, so read the end of the TrackMania section for my thoughts on that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Color Wheel Swatches (For Photoshop and Other Programs)

NOTE TO CS5 USERS: I've gotten reports that in CS5 (and maybe CS4 but I haven't heard anything yet) that the minimum width of the Swatches panel in the default workspace is 17 instead of 16. The Swatches panel must be 16 swatches wide, otherwise the circular swatch pattern becomes slanted.

The culprit is the Layers panel which can't be as small as the Swatches panel, so if the Swatches panel and the Layers panel are put on the same column the Swatches panel will be wider to fit. The fix is to undock the swatches panel, at which point you can dock other panels below it that aren't wide.


Edit: I've created a new swatch set with shades instead of tints.

In the past I've used the VisiBone2 swatches in Photoshop, and I've been meaning to make an improved set of swatches for some time now, one that's organized like an actual color wheel. So I did. Here it is.




The special thing about this swatch layout is that the color wheel is actually accurate! It's not the VisiBone-style color wheel that uses red, green, and blue as the primary colors, where cyan is the complement of red. This uses the primary colors of pigments: red, yellow and blue, and displays it in full RGB gamut. It also takes into account that monitor green is not the same as reality green, and monitor blue is not the same as reality blue. So you can effectively use this as an accurate color wheel, making it great for working out color studies.


In the palette I've also included 3 value scales: simple grayscale, warm to cool, and cool to warm, which I use for my under paintings.

In the bottom right corner there's a small palette of colors that's already harmonized and CMYK safe for multipurpose use. I use that palette for line drawings, sketches, notes, and incidentally the Structure of Man Primer.

There's also a CMYK version of the color wheel (updated from the old one) if you plan on doing stuff for print. The ACO and ASE files are actual CMYK palettes, whereas the other ones are just CMYK safe RGB color palettes. So if you use that palette of colors you can be confident that the image you used them on will print predictable without having to work in CMYK mode because RGB mode performs better in Photoshop.

You can download the RGB and CMYK palettes here in multiple formats:

ACO Files (Adobe Photoshop Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: ACO
CMYK Color Wheel: ACO

ASE Files (Adobe Swatch Exchange)
RGB Color Wheel: ASE
CMYK Color Wheel: ASE

ACT Files
RGB Color Wheel: ACT
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: ACT

PAL Files (Jasc Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: PAL
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: PAL

TXT Files (Corel Painter Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: TXT
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: TXT

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aesop's Fables

I've waited for a while to talk about this on my blog; I finished this project four months ago, and if you've looked at my Vimeo page within the past two months you may have noticed a new video on there called Aesop's Fables. That video only showed the completed animation with the background overlay and not actual footage of the gallery installation in action. Well, today I finally uploaded a video that does this project justice, and I went ahead and updated the older video by adding the same music by Kevin MacLeod that I included in today's video.


>> Watch Aesop's Fables streamed in HD (720p)


>> Watch Aesop's Fables: Complete Animation streamed in HD (720p)

Aesop's Fables is my first 2D animated project. And by "2D animated" I don't mean animated with After Effects or Flash, I mean actually animating a character frame by frame. I loved it. It was a lot of work, but I loved it.

This project was an experimental motion design piece designed by Shane Janz that I did the illustrations and 2D animation for. The concept for the project was to mix printed design with motion design across multiple projection surfaces. The background paintings were printed onto three four-foot high panels with the animations being projected onto them using two projectors, meaning that the final resolution for the video was 2048 × 768.

Once we decided on using Aesop's fables for the concept and established the art style, we quickly realized that the characters needed to be animated frame by frame in order for the style to be consistent; we couldn't use 3D rendered characters. Fortunately I had recently been looking into 2D animation software and found an open source program that would do the trick. The 2D animation software I used was Pencil (except for the crow; that was painted with Photoshop). Compositing and other animation elements were done with After Effects and Blender. Blender was also used to do the pixel-perfect keystoning for the installation, which allowed the projected characters to interact perfectly with the printed artwork, and illuminated only the panels, making them appear to glow without any immediate indication as to why (the computer and projectors were hidden and the panels were only 1/4" thick).

The exhibit opened in the Spori Gallery on March 24, 2008. The response to the installation was extremely positive. One person described it as the coolest thing they had ever seen.

Unfortunately, I had to head back to Utah so I didn't get to spend more than 30 minutes with the final installation or attend the open house, but it was still an unforgettable experience.

I've been delving heavily into 2D animation as a result of this project. In fact I now own six books on the subject. I'm even more grateful for Riven Phoenix's Structure of Man series (which I'm still yet to finish in its entirety) because I was able to animate that human character without any motion or photo reference. I've been so used to doing 3D and Flash-style animation that being able to bring a character to life without being limited in any way, or needing to create a 3D model, texture, rig, or anything else prior to animating, was something that I hadn't experienced before.

I want to do a lot more of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

News Flash: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

A friend of mine pointed me to this today, and this is something that I definitely want to make an announcement of. Come to think of it, I've been doing a lot of announcing and not a lot of creating.

Anyway, it's show written by Joss Whedon—yes, the same guy that did Buffy and Firefly—called Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I've watched the first part and it's hilarious. It's an experimental project that Joss wrote during the Writers Guild Strike to show what can be done with very little, released on the web, and get compensated handsomely for it—hopefully anyway, but that's part of the experiment.

So check it out. Watch all the episodes as they come out throughout the week; Act 2 comes out Thursday, Act 3 comes out Saturday, and after the 20th it won't be available for free anymore. [Edit: You can now watch it for free on their website. However the video will have a few ads.] If you want to support what they are trying to do—and you should—go buy their stuff so they'll know people like it and will make more of these kinds of things.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

News Flash: Celtx 1.0 Released

Celtx 1.0 finally got released today. Go check it out at celtx.com.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What I've Been Playing: TrackMania and Painkiller

I have a habit when it comes to playing newly purchased games. It's basically a planned splurge of my free time. For about three days, or how ever long it takes me to beat the game, I'll use all my free time to play it until I've completed it, at which point I'll move on with the rest of life. For this reason I usually buy games on a Friday and then play it through the weekend.

If it's a really good game I'll play through it twice to relive all the good moments or to find/unlock things I've missed. If it's an exceptional game I'll play it often for a few months or even years. This doesn't happen very often, and I can only recall doing it with Descent and Unreal Tournament 2004.

This habit lets me play plenty of games and gives me a pretty uninterrupted experience of the entire thing. I've also found that I can get through games faster this way since I don't have to remember what it was I was supposed to do when I left off.

Thanks to Steam I can buy games on an impulse and play all kinds of different and interesting titles from big studios and indies. Steam has recently become my primary source for games, so here's what I've been playing recently that are worth talking about.

TrackMania Nations Forever
I'm a big fan of games where you can create stuff. Yes, a lot of games have external level editors or other modding tools, but those usually take a long time to learn. I like simple and robust editors that are built into the game. Customizing the appearance of my character/vehicle is fun and all, but I like it when they let you take it a bit further.

TrackMania Nations Forever has a few good things going for it. First, it's not a racing simulator, or a racing game with realistic driving physics. Those are the kinds of racing games where the vehicles will spin out if you turn too fast and you need an analog steering wheel to play it properly, along with 2 weeks worth of stunt driving courses. The only racing simulator I've played that I liked was Need For Speed: Carbon for the Wii, probably because the steering was analog, and it had this unrealistic bullet time mode that slowed time down and made your vehicle more responsive, making difficult maneuvers possible and a lot more stylish. TrackMania is a simple but challenging racing game. There's no handbrakes, no gear shifting, no spinning out or drifting physics, just four buttons for left, right, go and stop.

Now, TrackMania is no F-Zero GX or Rollcage Stage II as far as being an off-the-hook awesome racer, but it's solid, has really fun tracks, and comes with a good level editor. TrackMania Nations Forever is also free. So if you have Steam check it out. You can also get TrackMania United Forever for $40, which has more tracks, cars, content, and so on.

If you want to kill some time by being creative, like racing games, and have no money, give TrackMania a try.

2008.10.24 Update: I did in fact buy TrackMania ($40), and I will say that compared to the demo you may feel gypped by the price, but if you didn't play the demo it's worth it. Let me explain.

The full game comes with 6 new environments: desert, rally, snow, island, coast, and bay, all in addition to stadium which the demo came with. The kicker is that each environment has it's own vehicle type that handles completely different from each other, and most steer so sharply that your need an analogue steering wheel to effectively control the vehicle. And because I use a keyboard, driving became very difficult. And then you have the coast environment. The sports car feels so heavy and drifts so much that it doesn't feel like the same game anymore.

The good news is that it comes with all of the demo tracks and about twice as many additional tracks spanning all 7 environments/vehicle types, and three new game modes: platform (obstacle course), stunts (getting points by doing tricks), and puzzle (combination track building with limited pieces and time trial), all of which are fun modes.

So, if you do decide to buy the full version of the game, think of it as buying the full game and the demo, then the $40 will be worth it.

Recommendation: Play the demo for sure. Creating your own tracks is a blast and in of itself makes this game awesome. The full game comes with cars that should be driven with a steering wheel controller. The entire package is well worth the $40 if you like racing games.

Painkiller
A couple of weeks ago I watched a Zero Punctuation review of Painkiller, a game which Yahtzee claims kicks the ass of most modern first person shooters. Since being let down by Unreal Tournament 3 I've been starving for some good, less serious FPS action games, so I decided to take his advice and give Painkiller a try.

The first place I looked for it was on Steam. They had the free demo, but they were also selling it for only $10. It's kind of hard to go wrong with paying $10 for a critically acclaimed game, so I bought it, played through it, and have beaten it twice already.

The game is as fun as he says it is. It's simple fun, but has plenty of gameplay subtleties to make you feel like you are being clever in combat. The different locations for each level break any kind of monotony throughout the game.

The weapons feel very powerful. Shooting the undead with a shotgun at point blank range will either send them flying 20 feet back, or 20 feet in all directions. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode, not in the Unreal sense where it's just a alternate fire mode that uses the same ammo, instead it's a completely different weapon: melee spinning blades, lazer; shotgun, freeze ray; long-ranged stake gun, grenades; rockets, minigun; shurikens, lighting; machine gun, and flame thrower. I'm always talking about wish fulfillment, and these weapons are certainly it.

What was also surprising is how quickly Steam started advertising Painkiller with Yahtzee's quote, "All you really need to know is there's a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning," the same day the review was released. No doubt it was planned in advance, but I smile every time I think that under appreciated games from four years ago are being recommended and advertised by people who are in a position to do so.

One thing that also intrigued me about playing through Painkiller was the last level: Hell. After finding the gateway to Hell to do battle with Lucifer, I was expecting fire and brimstone like what was in Doom 3 (another simple shooter which I loved), but the depiction of Hell was quite unusual. Of course, Painkiller's idea of purgatory is also unusual, which was pulling locations and themes randomly from the living world into a parallel demonized version of it, so in that context the Hell level fits right in with that concept.

The only way I can describe it is it's a 3-dimensional collage of warfare from the middle ages all the way up to the atomic bomb. Time is frozen and there are no people; weapons and debris are floating in mid air, but the screams and sounds of war are still audible all around you. You are also being attacked by demon ghosts, and you have to kill those before Lucifer comes out, at which point the scenery suddenly changes completely.

No matter what their reasoning for it was, the final stage paints a surreal and poignant interpretation of Hell.

Painkiller was certainly worth the $10, and I'm thinking about purchasing the sequel even though it's twice as much and wasn't rated as highly.

Recommendation: Simple first person shooting fun done right, creative environments, rock solid (simple) gameplay, every weapon is fun to use, story sucks, but for $10 bucks you won't be disappointed if you want something action packed and full of giblets.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Adobe Gamma

Adobe Gamma is one of those massively useful programs that many people already have installed but don't actually use. If you've installed Photoshop, it's running on your computer right now. If you haven't actually calibrated your monitor with it, you should do it right away.

At one of the places I used the work at, we used the Spyder2 colorimeter to calibrate all of our monitors to have a perfect white point and gamma. Having a calibrated monitor makes a huge difference. The colors on the screen looked more vibrant, the contrast was perfect so you could see all the colors without them being clipped to white or black, the blue tint was gone, and the colors on the screen actually matched the colors that were printed. It was such an improvement that I decided that there's no point in buying an expensive screen if you are not going to callibrate it using a Spyder or something similar. Even our inexpensive LCDs looked like high-end $800 monitors once calibrated.

Unfortunetly I have no such display calibration system at home, so I had to resort to doing the best I could with my monitor's settings. That was until I discovered what Adobe Gamma actually does. It is a calibration system for your monitor. If you are one of those people who already have it installed in windows, just go to Control Panel > Adobe Gamma, and go follow the steps; just make sure that when you do, to adjust the gamma for each channel individually as shown in the image above.

Comparing the experience I've had with the Spyder and now Adobe Gamma, I'm actually quite impressed with the results of having a software-only assisted display calibration system. I know that I'm not going to get as accurate results without the Spyder, but what I'm seeing on my screen is so close to what I've experienced with the Spyder that it's a good alternative if you don't want to spend US$169 for a Spyder3Pro. And the great thing is that if you are a graphic designer or illustrator you probably already have it running; you just need to configure it first.

Alternatives to Adobe Gamma
It's worth noting that nVidia has a pretty good Display Optimization Wizard that gave me identical results to Adobe Gamma. So if you have an nVidia card but no Adobe Gamma then the Display Optimization Wizard will work just fine. It's also worth noting that the color correction does not work in video games, so if that's your only reason to calibrate then you may not want to bother; just use the test patterns to adjust your monitor's settings the best you can.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Massively Useful Software: AutoHotkey

Like most people, the first time you need to use a macro program it's for something completely immature and nonconstructive. For me, I needed something like AutoHotkey to quickly generate my 3-line Cute Bunny Giving You the Bird ASCII graphic into the game chat before someone realized what was going on—which was usually around the "( ._.) ..!." line—and then they assault it by quickly sending something like "asdf" which decapitates my bunny!

I wasn't going to take that kind of treatment anymore, and no bunny deserves to be decapitated, so I used AutoHotkey to create a macro that creates the bunny immediately without having to type it in by hand. No one could stop it and no more bunnies ever died again. Well, that's not entirely true. There were a couple of stray lines of text that killed a few Cute Bunnies Giving You the Bird, but the mortality rate was much lower.

Of course macros are useful for constructive things too. This neat little open source Windows program is extremely robust. It uses a powerful scripting language that not only lets you create simple keyboard macros, but you can also run programs, manipulate files, receive input from joysticks, control the mouse cursor, modify variables, and then save it either as a script file or an .exe file so AutoHotkey doesn't even have to be installed to use the script.

But for me, since I don't want to learn the scripting language that much, the only thing I really use it for is entering high bit characters, HTML entity references, and of course Cute Bunnies Giving You the Bird. Creating a script is simple, and there's a tool that comes with it that makes it easier.

Here's a script that I made that lets me use Unicode punctuation marks in the name of good typography: the en dash, the em dash, the ellipsis, and actual left/right quotation marks instead of the ambidextrous quotation marks that are on your keyboard (which are called primes actually, and they are only supposed to be used as inch and foot marks). The script is lovingly called "typography_nut", and it's in response to one of the things that I love about Macs.

The Mac already has neat shortcuts like Option-Hyphen to create and en dash. In Windows you have to hold down Alt, type 0150 on the numeric keypad, and then release the Alt key to create one. Once again AutoHotkey comes to the rescue, and this is one of the many reasons why it's one of my massively useful programs. I'll even go as far as saying that this is a must-have script for graphic designers that use a PC.

Anyway, here's the script:

; Script: typography_nut

; This AutoHotkey script lets you quickly input typographical characters without
; having to memorize the Alt code number. The glyph, Alt code number and hotkey
; are listed below. You are welcome to change the hotkeys to whatever you feel
; comfortable with. - Glen Moyes

; Em Dash - Alt 0151
; Ctrl-Hyphen

^-::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad5}{Numpad1}{ALTUP}

; En Dash - Alt 0150
; Ctrl-Alt-Hyphen

^!-::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad5}{Numpad0}{ALTUP}

; Ellipsis - Alt 0133
; Ctrl-Period

^.::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad3}{Numpad3}{ALTUP}

; Left Single Quote - Alt 0145
; Ctrl-[

^[::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad4}{Numpad5}{ALTUP}

; Right Single Quote - Alt 0146
; Ctrl-]

^]::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad4}{Numpad6}{ALTUP}

; Left Double Quote - Alt 0147
; Ctrl-Alt-[

^![::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad4}{Numpad7}{ALTUP}

; Right Double Quote - Alt 0148
; Ctrl-Alt-]

^!]::Send, {ALTDOWN}{Numpad0}{Numpad1}{Numpad4}{Numpad8}{ALTUP}
The script has all the documentation so you can read what the hotkeys are and what they do.

If you want to use this macro, just copy and paste it into a text file called "typography_nut.ahk" and double-click on the file after you've installed AutoHotkey. There will be an icon loaded on your System Tray for every script you have loaded.

Also, make sure that whatever shortcut you choose for your macro isn't also the same shortcut as one that's used in the current application. For example, the above macro uses Ctrl-[ and Ctrl-] as shortcuts, which is an Illustrator shortcut as well, meaning that the shortcut can only be used by the macro. Changing the "^" to a "#" (representing the Windows key) in the script will fix that problem because the Windows key is not used in individual applications, so there won't be any shortcut conflicts. However, you may not like the having the Start Menu pop up when you fumble on a shortcut. And remember that you can turn the macro off at any time easily.

So have fun with this script and have fun with AutoHotkey.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Previous Work Re-rendered in HD

I never intended on revisited any of my school work, but since Vimeo's HD service is so good I was strongly compelled to re-render my motion design work in 720p. It also helped that I have a trial version of After Effects installed, so this will be the only chance I'll have to do this for a while, now that I'm away from school and don't have access to the Mac Lab.

So here it is: all three projects from my motion design class, including one which you haven't seen before, in HD.

Wonder
This is the first project that I revisited earlier this week. I had to determine what version of Blender I used to make it because it wouldn't render properly with the newest version. Instead of rendering at the original 1024x576 resolution with no anti-aliasing, I re-rendered it at 1280x720 with 8x anti-aliasing. It took 2 days, but it's oh so pretty! Of course only after rendering did I noticed a couple of mistakes with the petals in the background. One would snap to a different rotation for a second and then go back again, and a couple of petals in the background would pop into existence while in-frame (I used a particle system to create the petals, and the petal's birth was supposed to happen off-frame so you couldn't see it happen).

I fixed both of those issues and had it render for another day, but now it's done and it looks awesome.

>> Watch this video streamed in HD (720p)

Sneakers
I made this one in the Mac Lab, so naturally all of the fonts were broken. Fixing that was tedious because of the crazy text animation I did. There was also a few problems in the animation that I fixed as well (at that smaller resolution I never noticed that the last S in the Sneakers title drifted down). Anyway, it's done and available for your viewing pleasure.

>> Watch this video streamed in HD (720p)

One thing I will add that is really nice about Vimeo's service is that you can replace the videos with newer ones, so I didn't have to re-link anything on my blog even going from web quality to HD.

Bad Robot

>> Watch this video streamed in HD (720p)

Now this video was HD to begin with; I was planning on having all of my projects rendered in HD. However, this video was also the reason why the rest for that class were 1024x576. First off, QuickTime is stupid. If you open a video file that's larger than the screen size it doesn't scale it to fit until you press Command-3 (and there's no full-screen mode unless you "go Pro" for $30). I was surprised that no one besides myself knew about that shortcut, even my Mac-using instructors. He didn't like having a video larger than the screen and later asked the class to send him all videos in 320x240 for concerns about frame and file size (some students used a raw codec to save the files). I of course rebelled, and made the videos just big enough to fit on screen, and encoded it properly so the file size was reasonable. There weren't any complaints though.

Anyway, I revisited Bad Robot just so I could get a clean rendering of the video and in a format that I like. I've been using Blender a lot to encode videos because it has good ffmpeg support (in Windows anyway). Since revisiting these projects I've now used Blender to encode all of the files that I uploaded to Vimeo so far (except for the Touch the Table video, but that's not motion design).

I really like Vimeo. I just can't wait until embed videos, like what I have on my blog, can be viewed in HD instead of following the link to view it on their site.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Video Sharing Sites Compared

You might have noticed that I started using a different service to host my videos on this blog. I've been looking for something better than Google Video and YouTube to host my videos. So I did some research, compared the services, and found a service that I really like.

I uploaded the same video to test each of these services, and here are the results.

Google Video

video
YouTube quality. This is what I've been using previously. The bitrate is low and the frame size is small.

Blip.tv



I've heard that these are the best guys to go through for high-quality video hosting. And they are not bad. The quality per frame is the highest out of any of these services that I've tested, and they also change the aspect ratio of the movie player so there's no letter boxing for my widescreen videos. The big problem is they dropped the frame rate to reduce bandwidth. That's a big bummer, and is why I decided not to use their service. You can enable advertising (which is off be default), and they do the 50/50 split of ad revenue just like Revver.

Revver


I've heard about these guys because of the ad revenue sharing, the 50/50 split from ad revenue they make off your movie. The frame size is really good, but I don't like the letter boxing. The big problem I have with it are the ads during and at the end of the video, and you can't seem to disable them.

Vimeo



BlenderNation uses this service a lot, so I gave it a try. The bitrate is good, the video player is at the right aspect ratio, and my favorite part is that the interface goes away shortly after it starts, only showing you the movie. There's parameters that you can set when you create the embed code that changes the way the video player looks, like the color of the buttons, if the movie title is displayed or not, and what size. They also host the original video file that I uploaded as well.

Now, this is a standard sized video. If you upload a video that's 1280x720 or better, Vimeo can stream it as a HD. Just click on the full screen button and there it is. I've uploaded one of the CMC ads so you can see how it looks.


Watch "CMC Ad 1" in HD

Well, apparently you can't embed HD content; it has to be viewed from their web site. So click on the link underneath the video to see it in HD, streamed right to your web browser. You can also check out other HD videos at Vimeo HD.

The only problem I have with Vimeo is the comments screen at the end of the video. It's florescent orange! I tried to see if there's a parameter that turns that off, or at least changes the color of the background, but I found no such option. If you watch the video on the Vimeo site the player doesn't do that; the code is the same, but if the video is displayed on a site other than Vimeo it will appear.

Regardless, Vimeo is the winner, and I've already replaced most of my videos on the blog with that service. I'm so glad I don't have to use Google Video anymore.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sneakers Title Sequence (Redesign)

This was the final assignment for my motion design class (the same class that I did Wonder for). The assignment was to create a title sequence for a movie, preferably one that didn't already have an elaborate title sequence. So I chose one of my favorite movies: Sneakers.

>> Watch this video streamed in HD (720p)

I wanted the first part of the title sequence to look like the good old days of the BBS and ANSI art. The only way to do that was to animate the text frame by frame. In After Effects you can change the content of a text layer at any time, so it was just a matter of filling a text box full of white space (using a mono space font), and then edit the text for each frame as if you were using a text editor. The funny thing is that this crude bit of animation is the strongest part of the motion piece.

I used to be an ANSI artist, so animating text in this way felt pretty comfortable to me even after all these years. It was a nice departure from all the key-framed animations I've been doing and going back to my roots of text-only graphics and animation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Launchy

I've been using this nifty little program for a while. If you've ever used Quicksilver on the Mac and wished something like that existed for Windows, Launchy is it.

The way it works is you press a keyboard shortcut (Alt-Space by default) and start typing the name of the program. It has a memory of everything in your start menu and browser bookmarks, so as you type the name it'll show what it thinks you are referring to. For example, all I have to do to launch Adobe Illustrator is press Alt-Space, type "illu" (for Illustrator) and press enter. I don't have to use the mouse to launch the program.

I used to have a really organized Start Menu becuase that was my primary method of running programs, but now I don't have to. In fact I don't use my start menu anymore. Even things like the Control Panel are perfectly accessible from Launchy.

It's open source and apparently written in Qt, which means that there could be a Linux release soon. Yes, I know there's something called the command line interface that let's you run programs with tab-completion. But for people like me who think of the command console as creepy basement--dark and scary as hell, but it's the only way to get to the water heater to fix it--Launchy is a nice way to run programs without having to use the mouse.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Apophysis

Apophysis is an open source program that creates flame fractals. The only thing I can say about this program that contains any amount of profound insight is this: the fractals look awesome! Seriously, tinker around with the program. It comes with plenty of presets and all kinds of ways to manipulate them.

I'll probably do a series of sketches based on the designs of these fractal patterns at some point because they look so cool. I'm also planning on using Apophysis to create animated magic/sci-fi effects for use with 3D animations. And I can finally make some cool dual screen backgrounds too.

Anyway, lots of potential applications for these images and people will wonder how you did it. Expect more blabbing about Apophysis-generated content in the future.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Massively Useful Software: Celtx

I decided that I'll start sharing software that I've discovered to be massively useful or just really cool. I'm not talking about popular software, I'm talking about obscure or open source programs that people don't really know about but has lots of value. So let's start.

When it comes to recording ideas and collaborating on stories and other projects, our team has used our private wiki for the past few years. Wikis are great because they're accessible online and you can edit any page you want. But that's pretty much all I find them useful for.

I have some issues with using wikis: I have to wait for a page to load, tree-like organization of sub-articles is a big pain in the neck for large projects in that you have to click and load a new page to go to the next sub-article, unless you manually create a table of contents, and when you finally get to the page you want you have to go into edit mode to make changes.

That's a lot of clicking links and waiting. It wasn't so bad when the Wiki was hosted on our network, but it's on a web server so each page takes some time to process and download. I realize that these are mainly interface issues, and could be fixed with something like AJAX. But for solo writers who don't know how to set up Apache, PHP, MySQL, and a wiki, that form of collaboration isn't an option.

This is why Adam and I came up with some designs for a piece of software which would be perfect for organizing story ideas and collaboration. The problem is that since this software doesn't exist yet we really can't use it. So, after doing some research on existing software, I came across an open source program called Celtx (pronounced kel-ticks).

Celtx, like Blender, is one of those programs that I previously downloaded but quickly dismissed because it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. But with time--and desperation--I gave it a second chance and started to like the software. In this case, I gave Celtx a try for no other reason then to see if Celtx will be a suitable substitute for my dream story-writing-program that doesn't exist yet, as well as deciding if it's worth bugging Bryan some more to get him to code it because there would be a huge demand for a program like that.

Celtx is designed for media production (film, plays, A/V, radio) and allows you to upload the project to their secure server called Project Central for collaboration. You can download the newest version of the project and upload changes. Unfortunately, it uploads the entire project at once, so only one person can be working on it at a time. It also takes a while to upload and download when you use storyboards or other large files in the project because you download the entire project as opposed to just the changes. The devs did say that they are planning on better collaboration tools, but collaboration isn't why I started using Celtx. I'm the only writer so I don't really need Project Central--heck, even on the wiki I was the only one writing--and even if we did have more than one writer we wouldn't put our work on someone else's server out of pure paranoia. If I want feedback I just send them the project or just a PDF of a script. As for realtime collaboration, VNC works just fine.

So far I've been using Celtx for two weeks rewriting the story and I can honestly say that I'm very pleased. I like being able to sort and rearrange the documents in my project however I want in a collapsible project tree, which is always visible on the sidebar. Scripts like screenplays and stageplays are automatically formated for you, and you are always in edit mode. Nothing is getting in the way of me organizing ideas and writing the story.

There's a basic storyboarding tool in Celtx as well. It's not robust enough for animatics: there's no sound or the ability to have variable timing for each frame. But it's not a bad system and we've already used it in a couple of projects.

There's one last thing I really like about Celtx. The .cetlx file format is a Zip file with each document saved as an HTML file, and any other file you've attached into the project is included as well. So if I decide to go back to using the wiki, or if we develop our own writing software, it'll be easy to convert the files. And even if the Celtx project dies, the content I've written will still be readable. There is a problem with compressing the entire project, of course. What if you are working on a huge project with tons of concept art and movie files? Decompressing a 500MB file every time you load the project could be a real drag. It would be nice if you had the option of saving the project as an uncompressed directory, only loading files when necessary.

Aside from the collaboration sucking, the primary problem I have with Celtx is how specialized it is for film as opposed to just writing. There's a lot of useless templates listed when you try to add a new document. Do I really need a list of 34 categories for things like animal handler, electrics, greenery and livestock if I'm doing a CG film? Yeah, I can see it being useful for a movie, but not for a writer. Fortunately, you can turn any of these off in the preferences, so that's not a big deal.

So instead of using these templates for various parts of the story, I've been creating folders full of text documents. It works just fine for me; I know writers who don't use fancy software at all for their work, just a text editor or word processor. I do however use Celtx's Character and Scene Details templates every once in a while because the templates may contain good questions such as, "What is the goal of the antagonist in this scene?" "How does the antagonist achieve this goal?" "What is the central event of this scene?" "How does this event affect the overall plot?" Those are some good reminders of things to consider when writing. It would be nice if I could make my own custom templates because there are other things I like to consider when writing scenes and developing characters, and I won't have to refer to my notes as much.

Celtx is designed with the assumption that you are working on a TV show or movie project. There aren't any tools that help you organize your ideas aside from the project tree on the sidebar. They do have index cards which allow you to rearrange scenes in a script, but not all writers want to use index cards in that way only.

Because I'm just writing a story and don't know for sure what the final medium is going to be, and since 80% of the documents in the project so far are just text documents, a lot of the features in Celtx seem like bloat. But again, that's only because of how I'm using it. And I don't mind.

With all of it's shortcomings when compared to my perfect and imaginary writing program, Celtx has nonetheless helped me as a writer since I started using it two weeks ago. The automatic screenplay formating has made writing dialog a lot of fun, I can finally organize files however I want, I don't need a fast internet connection to write efficiently, it works on all three major operating systems, and it's really simple and straight forward to use.

So if you are writing for film, I highly recommend using Celtx. If you are writing a novel and would like some way to organize all of these documents and have them easily accessible without using your operating system's file browser, I'd recommend Celtx as well. Now don't misunderstand, I'm not completely dumping wikis. But Celtx has been so useful for quickly coming up with ideas and organizing them that I'll probably use it for most of my projects until we need better collaboration at the expense of the interface.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

AudioSurf Released

Following up on my previous post about AudioSurf, the game was officially released on Steam a couple of days ago. It's $10, and a free demo is available.

So, go check it out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Better Than Free: Piracy vs. Legitimacy.

I came across a really good article today called Better Than Free written by Kevin Kelly. The article is about how something that may be free and infinitely abundant—referring to digital media—can still be valuable enough that people will pay for it, even though the law of supply and demand states that if something is in infinite supply it will cost nothing.

This made me think about how the ability to make perfect copies of digital media will affect the kind of work that I want to do. Every media industry that I can think of is complaining about piracy and how it's hurting their business: music, movies, video games, books, software, the list goes on and on. If it's so easy to get copies for free then why would anybody pay for it?

I've been thinking about this topic a lot over the past few years because our studio's primary form of distribution will be internet downloads. Trying to create the best possible product and cultivate a high level of trust with customers, while protecting our business model at the same time, is a tricky problem. If it's done poorly it can have disastrous results. Out of all the media companies I only know of a few that have done it well by our standards.

Currently the only solution to fixing the piracy problem, as far as the majority of media companies are concerned, is to make prefect digital copies harder to make through copyright protection (commonly referred to as digital rights management or DRM) and inflicting stiffer legal penalties for doing so. It's basically a lock and key approach with additional scare tactics to keep their business model working the way it has in the past. The problem with this strategy is that it only stops an extremely small amount of total piracy: casual piracy (although easy piracy would be a more accurate term). The other copyright infringers will still go through the same channels and their pirating experience will be the same as before. The copyright protection already been broken when they download it. Pirating isn't anymore difficult for them, just a little more challenging for those cracking the software.

So the only thing that copy protection really inconveniences are the crack teams who get praise and glory for being really clever, and the paying customers because of all the hoops they have to jump through in order to enjoy their media: DVDs not being playable in all operating systems, games requiring the original install discs be in the drive in order to play, 16 character CD keys, online activation, encrypted music and movie files restricted to "approved devices", PDF textbooks that expire and become unreadable after the semester is over, the list goes on an on. These are all things that legitimate customers have to deal with but the pirates do not. There's no copyright protection on the pirated copies. No DRM. There's nothing stopping you from making backups, editing, transcoding, reading or playing the file whenever you want, which makes the illegal copies more valuable than the legitimate ones. This phenomenon is referred to as the Better Than Original Vulnerability, and is why DRM in it's current state is grossly ineffective. To top it off, in order to get that more valuable product you don't have to pay anything for it.

Pay more for a defective product, or nothing for a better product. It's no wonder why piracy is so rampant.

There are however some characteristics that can't be copied. Kevin Kelly describes these as the 8 generatives: immediacy, being able to get something as soon as it's released; personalization, something that is custom made and that directly addresses your unique needs and wants; interpretation, documentation and training to make the product useful; authenticity, reliable media that is virus free and legal; accessibility, being able to access the product at any time and not have to worry about keeping back ups; embodiment, a physical reproduction, live performances or experiences with friends and family; patronage, the warm fuzzy of supporting artists by paying for their work; and findability, mind share, a work has to be known for it to be valuable.

These are all things that can't be copied that make something valuable and incidentally things that people pay a premium for. By taking a look at what the different media distribution services have to offer, you can gauge the quality of each service by how well it holds up to these generatives. So let's look at some examples in these terms.

Boxed video games contain the install discs, a manual and occasionally some extra goodies like posters or figurines. Many games use some kind of copyright protection system like SecuROM and a CD check which requires that the install disc be in the drive to be playable, even though all the game files have been copied onto the hard drive. In recent years the only way to get games on launch day from a large outlet like GameStop is to preorder it or try your luck elsewhere.

Authenticity, embodiment in the form of box art and figures, and patronage. That's 3 out of 8.

Let's compare that with Steam, Valve's online content distribution system. With Steam you can search for hundreds of new, classic, and out of print games. Immediately after purchasing you can start downloading the game from their high-speed servers, and in some cases preload the game so it'll be unlocked as soon as it's released. You can install Steam on any computer, log in, and download your purchased the games and play them so long as you are not already logged in elsewhere. There are no CD checks.

Immediacy, authenticity, accessibility, patronage and findability. That's 5 out of 8. As for the 3 missing points, the Steam Community does let you upload a custom icon representing you in online games and many of their games come with creation tools (personalization), Steam is very easy to use so documentation isn't really necessary but free support is available (interpretation). So already it's really close to having 7 out of 8 points. If Steam games had a network license, you could play with all your friends with just buying one copy (embodiment). That would give it all 8 points.

Let's look at the music industry for a minute. iTunes allows you to buy and quickly download songs and TV shows so you can play them on your computer using Apple software or other Apple devices. The price of albums is cheaper than retail and you can buy a single song for $0.99. iTunes is searchable and contains most new releases from the Big Four record labels.

Immediacy, authenticity and findability. That's 3 out of 8. The problem is that the files (except those in EMI's catalog at time of writing) have DRM, so backing them up properly is difficult and impossible if you don't know where the key file is, there's a limit on how many times you can do that, and the files are restricted so they'll only work on Apple approved devices. As far as patronage, the artists see very little from each sale.

Compared to CD Baby, the site lets you download MP3s or have the album shipped to you, you can redownload the MP3s again at any time, there's no DRM on either the downloads or the discs, the site is searchable by genre and similar (popular) bands, and the artists receive 91% of each sale. Each album on the site is also previewed and users can comment on the album, providing good feedback to help you make a buying decision, and free samples for each track on the CD are generally 2 minutes long.

Immediacy, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment in the form of CDs, patronage and findability. That's a whopping 7 out of 8. It's missing personalization, which could be fixed by offering multiple audio format options like OGG or FLAC. The artists could also provide more instrumental versions of their songs, or even go as far as what Trent Reznor did when he released a GarageBand project file of "The Hand that Feeds" so fans could remix it.

With peer-to-peer networks you can search the database to find just about anything you want but it can be difficult to find obscure material. It can take a couple of days or even a week to download large files since you are downloading from users who are also sharing those files with others. Doing so is also illegal and it's easy for distribution companies to track you down. You may also be downloading viruses and/or malware with your pirated material. Movies are often leaked so downloading rips long before the official DVD release is possible. Cracked games let you play with friends without spending $60 per person. It is also possible to get translated versions of games and videos which have not been internationalized yet.

Personalization, accessibility, embodiment in the form of playing games with friends and findability. 4 out of 8. The only way that pirated copies can become more value is by taking out the legal risk, and I don't see that happening any time soon, and society and commerce would likely be doomed if we did.

What I've learned is that the thing most people find valuable about pirating is that it's easy to find things that are out of print, sold out, do not exist (e.g. English translations of anime) or have been repaired (e.g. CD checks removed from games, DRM free files). The fact that it's free is a plus for many people, but for those that have the money the benefits of not having to live in fear of getting caught or downloading viruses, and all the other generatives that come with buying legitimate copies are certainly worth the money and outweigh the benefits of piracy.

Understanding why people pirate media will help us understand what the industry is not offering customers and provide us with solutions about what can be done.

When there's no proper market for a certain good a black market appears. That's what happened with MP3s and Napster. Being able to download any song you want and get it in a portable digital format was not an option back then. It was a completely new method of getting music that the music industry didn't create themselves, didn't capitalize on after the technology and distribution methods where commonly used, and has been fighting the digital age ever since. The success of iTunes significantly encouraged industry adoption of digital downloads, but the record companies insisted on included DRM with the music files. Recently EMI finally listened to the many disgruntled customers (although it's more likely they listened to the open letter by Steve Jobs on DRM), and has finally starting offering customers what they've been pirating for years: a digital music file that isn't encrypted and can be played on any device.

It's hard to know how much money is lost due to piracy. It's claimed to be in the tens of billions, but it's argued that these figures are false because not every pirated copy is in fact a lost sale because many people would never pay for a copy either out of corporate rebellion, interest in the product, necessity, or available income.

It is also argued that pirating is actually good for the industry because more users will raise the popularity of the product. Pirates that "try out" the software might eventually buy it at a later time. This may be true in some or most cases, but certainly not in all, and it's impossible to really know what percentage of people will never buy a product.

Also, do these arguments have any truth or are they simply justification for breaking the law?

As someone that is planning on releasing shows, games and all kinds of other media online, here's where I currently stand on the issue. Assuming that there are people that pirate because they can't afford a legitimate copy or can afford it but won't, there's no point in going after that group. I have nothing to gain by preventing that particular group from viewing my work. Sure, we could go after them for damages and scare potential pirates from downloading our work for fear of legal action, but I don't know if it's financially worth it. I know for a fact that it would be bad PR. I can't take that chance without accurate information. The last thing I want is the same kind of customer backlash received by the RIAA as a result of their lawsuits.

What really needs to be done is to ensure that legitimate copies from our website are more valuable than the pirated ones. The first few generatives are freebies because piracy has automatic drawbacks. From our site you'll be able to get our media quicker and easier than any other source (provided our projects don't get leaked), you'll know that you are downloading the original high-quality versions of the show, you won't have to worry about viruses or malware, you can download the media in a variety of different formats that's best suited for your hardware and software, and of course you'll have the warm fuzzy of knowing that there's no middle man between your money and the artists who created it.

In addition to those freebies, our software won't have copyright protection, meaning that you can back them up and play them on your laptop without needing to worry about CD checks or going to a shady site for a no-CD crack, and you can redownload what you've purchased at any time.

We've also managed to come up with ways to address the interpretation, embodiment and personalization issues for digitally distributed media: videos, music, ebooks, games, and another significant category which I'll keep secret for now (the very name gives too much away, sorry). Those three generatives are the holy grails of digital distribution, and I haven't seen a company adhere to those values as well as they could. I'm not going to get into specifics because I like having hope for my future business endeavors, and our solutions haven't been put to the test yet so I could be giving bad advice. So I won't share with you our solutions but I will tell you the formula and part of our design process that brought us to our conclusions.

Listen to people. Listen to what they say they want, and what they don't say they want. You'll need to do some primary research and careful synthesis to understand what people want and are not getting: what their dreams are, and "what they want to do but can't," to quote part of our design process. Understand that there's more to life than entertainment, so don't design a product that's intended to be addictive. I'm serious. I've heard companies refer to that planned addictiveness as "our product will become the centerpiece of your lifestyle," and there are established methods on doing that, especially in the gaming industry. Again, there's more to the customer's lives than your product, so look outside of that field to come up with solutions to design problems. The solutions may be too unorthodox for executives and stock holders to approve, but remember that the only thing that makes a business successful is its customers and understanding their behavior.

Another important thing to consider when solving these problems is that your main competitor is not so much other companies that are in the same field as you, but what people spend their time doing. Time is not a replenishable resource, which is actually my primary concern with piracy. Even though a pirated copy doesn't necessarily mean a lost sale, people are spending their time on the pirated copy, time which could be used on something legitimate.

To me, the concept that we are in competition with people's time is a very dangerous one to consider, and we need discernment because it also means that we are in competition with healthy activities as well. Entertainment can take too much of people's lives, and I'm appalled at the overall contempt that most entertainment companies have over the well being of their patrons.

Consider what people should be spending their time doing and how your product is going to affect that. Are they going to be consumed by it? Is it going to make their lives better or do nothing for them? Can you make something that people will find enjoyable and makes their lives better? Again, learn about what people genuinely want or need and don't create a cheap substitute for it. Conventional marketing research probably isn't going to provide you with the information that you need because it's focused simply on sales, which are important, but ideally shouldn't dictate the product, just how its sold.

Going back to creating media with more value, Kevin missed some key generatives or values. One thing I believe he missed about embodiment is that data, as soon as it's decoded and displayed on the computer or played through the speakers, has actually obtained a level of embodiment. It's now information, imagery, sound, the same things that to our mind processes from events that we consider real, such as a live performance.

The social aspect of media is also important, like watching a movie with friends and talking about it afterward. The experience of a movie lasts longer than the running time of the film, and it's shared between more than one person. As with piracy, the activity is socially driven and has a strong community. So if we are going to create media that beats what piracy has to offer, then it too needs to be socially driven. Let people enjoy it with each other, allow them to share it to some extent, let them edit it, take part in the creative process, and make it clear that they have these rights. Again, consider"what do people want to do but can't."

Lastly, some of the most important values in media: the strength of concept, purpose, originality, emotional effect and aesthetic value. Is this piece of work something that people actually want to own? People are more likely to pay for something that is good than something that is artistic garbage. There are people that will buy something purely out of principle because they understand than in order to support someone's creative efforts we have to purchase it. That's why I love to buy independently created work; I want to support them so they make more.

One popular argument is that people wouldn't pirate as much if better media was being produced, saying "I would pay for that movie if it was worth buying." I think this is mostly rationalization, but people do have a habit of only buying the best DVDs and games out there. It's another issue of cost. A poorly made movie isn't worth $18, but a good one is.

While we are still on the subject of piracy, a recent Gamasutra article entitled Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth is the account of Reflexive's anti-piracy measures and how it affected sales. They claimed that 92% of people playing their games pirated it. What is interesting is they had a significant increase in sales by improving their copyright protection. From the article:

Below are the results of Reflexive.com sales and downloads immediately following each update:

Fix 1 – Existing Exploits & Keygens made obsolete – Sales up 70%, Downloads down 33%

Fix 2 – Existing Keygens made obsolete – Sales down slightly, Downloads flat

Fix 3 – Existing Cracks made obsolete – Sales flat, Downloads flat

Fix 4 – Keygens made game-specific – Sales up 13%, Downloads down 16% (note: fix made after the release of Ricochet Infinity)

From the results above, it seems clear that eliminating piracy through a stronger DRM can result in significantly increased sales–but sometimes it can have no benefit at all...

As we believe that we are decreasing the number of pirates downloading the game with our DRM fixes, combining the increased sales number together with the decreased downloads, we find 1 additional sale for every 1,000 less pirated downloads. Put another way, for every 1,000 pirated copies we eliminated, we created 1 additional sale.
What do I think about their results and conclusions? It's important to remember that correlation doesn't mean causation. Looking at the pattern, the most realistic scenario seems to be that the DRM fixes created an increase in sales because a lot of people, by that point in time, have already played the game and once it's more difficult to pirate, existing gamers decide to go ahead and pay the $20 to purchase it. The only other sales increase was when they released Ricochet Infinity before another fix, which seems to match with this theory of gamers first experiencing the game through piracy and then having to pay up.

Could it be better to have loose DRM in the game and when enough publicity has been generated by piracy we then tighten up the copyright protection, so we reap the benefits of pirated games increasing interest and giving those people that will eventually pay for the game a reason to do so by making their current copy or piracy methods non-functional?

Of course that is just a theory, and we'd have to do more research and experiment with that business model to really get a better understanding of customer's behavior. We can't trust the research that's currently being done because of bias. There are so many factors to take into account before you can know the best way to handle piracy: how easy is the media to pirate, how popular is it, how much does it cost, is the legitimate media defective by design, is it a high-quality product. All of these things have an effect, and what worked for Reflexive probably won't work for a bigger company like Electronic Arts.

So, what about making a product that is better than the pirated one? What about the 8 generatives and all those other ideas that I wrote about and kept to myself? What about your ideas? Will any of these things work?

I believe that they will, but the hard part is actually creating that kind of product. We are slowly working on that now, and I hope within the next 5 years we'll see the fruits of our labors. But we need to go out on a limb, put our necks on the line, our money on the table, and sacrifice for the first little while to create something worthy of purchasing instead of pirating because of the value it has and the additional rights it gives our patrons. Create something that the pirated copy can not duplicate, and do nothing that will make the pirated copy better.

One of our motivations for starting the studio and the ideology behind it is to set a bar for the rest of the industry. Basically, we are fed up with what's being created and how customers are treated, and if our ideas are successful then the rest of the industry will follow. We want to buy better games, better movies, and more of that special category that I don't want to talk about yet, more end user rights, and in the end a better lifestyle.

If you are already a content producer then you have a head start on us, so please use your influence to set the bar for the rest of the industry to follow. Your customers, including us, will love you for it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Structure of Man Primer

Riven Phoenix's The Structure of Man series, which I've evangelized ever since I received my copy of the DVD set, has to be the best and most affordable (US$45) way to learn how to draw people from memory. Since leaving Rexburg I've had more time to continue watching the series--finally; I've owned it for about 9 months with not enough time to watch it until recently.

When I initially started The Structure of Man series I went through the first 19 videos with pencil and paper rather quickly, but then I realized that my final sketches didn't show much of the process of how I got to the final. All the important stuff that the video series is teaching, like the simplified angles and proportions that make up the human body were gone when I started rendering. I could watch the video over and over again until I memorized the formulas, but all I needed was some kind of primer that had all the formulas down on paper as a quick and complete reference.

That gave me the idea of creating a primer for the series. I wanted to keep more than just the final sketches as reference, I wanted to save the whole process. So I started the series over, drawing every sketch in Photoshop to use layers to save every phase of the drawing. So far it's become a massively helpful reference for me and my friends who have also been going through the series.

Another reason why I'm putting this together is that I haven't found a really good reference book that shows you the formulas of how to draw the human body in bite-sized chucks. Riven Phoenix has a great method of teaching so you'll remember all of the proportions. But it's a video series, not a quick reference book. Most books on this subject only show what the final drawing should look like, which isn't very helpful for someone trying to learn all of the proportions of the human body. Other anatomy books show too much information, so The Structure of Man has been an excellent substitute.

I probably won't release the primer to the public with respect to the creator; the primer is meant to have every step of the video series laid out on the page so that it would be possible to learn everything in the video series without actually watching the videos. So I'll have to ask him for permission. The primer does include supplemental pages of photographs and illustrations on anatomy because I'm planning on making it my one-stop resource for anatomy reference after I'm done with it.

I just finished video 38, which had a really clever way of describing the structure of the pelvic bone. Riven always shows you the concept of a structure so you can understand it before he goes into the formulas. So here's the process of how he explained the structure of the pelvic bone in it's GIF animated glory.

If you are interested, go buy The Structure of Man. He also just released another short video series called The Sketch Book of Drawing Techniques. I haven't purchased that DVD yet, but it's probably worth watching.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Humor Sketch 0001: OLPC Jolly Roger

Pentagram, I apologize in advance.

Is it just me or does the OLPC logo look like an abstracted and friendlier version of the Skull and Crossbones? I just noticed that the other day, and the thought of seeing it used as a Jolly Roger was funny enough that it needed a sketch.

We've been putting more work into making fast 2D games for the OLPC. Right now we don't have direct access to the XO-1's hardware; we'd have to write some drivers to do that. For now we are going to try and see what we can do without hacking the thing. We might consider writing the driver if we feel it's going to be worth the trouble and research. As for me, I'm just glad that I'm the art guy.

Anyway, enjoy the image. It's at a decent resolution this time.