How Unreal Renders a Frame

Breakdown on how Unreal renders a single frame. Essential reading in my opinion.

Interplay of Light

This is part 1 of the “How Unreal Renders a Frame” series, you can access part 2 and part 3 as well.

I was looking around the Unreal source the other day and inspired by some excellent breakdowns of how popular games render a frame, I thought to try something similar with it as well, to study how it renders a frame (with the default settings/scene setup).

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Games Look Bad, Part 1: HDR and Tone Mapping

A really neat article on color grading/tone mapping and how games are doing it wrong

Promit's Ventspace

This is Part 1 of a series examining techniques used in game graphics and how those techniques fail to deliver a visually appealing end result. See Part… for a more thorough explanation of the idea behind it.

High dynamic range. First experienced by most consumers in late 2005, with Valve’s Half Life 2: Lost Coast demo. Largely faked at the time due to technical limitations, but it laid the groundwork for something we take for granted in nearly every blockbuster title. The contemporaneous reviews were nothing short of gushing. We’ve been busy making a complete god awful mess of it ever since.

Let’s review, very quickly. In the real world, the total contrast ratio between the brightest highlights and darkest shadows during a sunny day is on the order of 1,000,000:1. We would need 20 bits of just luminance to represent those illumination ranges, before even including color in the…

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OSVR HDK Unboxing

So I finally got my hands on the OSVR headset from Razer. I’m not going to lie, it took its sweet time getting here (about 2 months more than the initially projected date) but the sheer degree of awesome that is possessed by a VR headset helped negate all my irritation from the delay.

In other words, I was squealing like a child when I picked it up and began the unboxing. I hope my excitement translates to you, gentle reader!

IMG_20151015_143123436_HDRIMG_20151015_143134137IMG_20151015_143355573

About now is when the squealing reached supersonic levels.IMG_20151015_144431475IMG_20151015_144443954IMG_20151015_143516892

The HDK itself seems to be divided into:

  1. The headset
  2. HDMI cables for the headset
  3. Some sort of audio cables that I haven’t yet figured out how to use
  4. The power supply
  5. The positional tracking kit (i.e. the Camera, a tripod stand and relevant cabling)
  6. A cleaning brush
  7. A hub for all the cables to connect into

IMG_20151015_143835863IMG_20151015_144123339

And there you have it!
The OSVR HDK unboxed.IMG_20151015_144048049

The link below is the official GitHub repository of the OSVR project, and contains all the instructions I needed to get everything setup and test the headset out in an actual VR demo.

Suffice to say, I was blown away.

https://github.com/OSVR

AND

https://github.com/OSVR/OSVR-General/wiki/HDK-Unboxing-and-Getting-Started

I hope this was of help/interest to anyone looking for more info on the OSVR project.

Feel free to contact me at Nightmask3@gmail.com for any help or insight I can provide on being a part of this ambitious new venture!

Thanks!

Happy hacking.

Games you should play to learn from as a designer.

Hello all!

Like the title says, these are games which I believe have much educational value to game designers, as they are sterling examples of design done right.

Some suggestions are primarily RPG based as I am someone who plays RPGs a lot.

1) Any Forgotten Realms CRPG from Black Isle such as Baldurs’ Gate 1/2, Planescape : Torment etc.

These games are a masterclass in how to provide narrative and emergent gameplay without overloading the character with too much information.

Even for someone completely unfamiliar with D&D as a whole, the story is intriguing enough for a newcomer to wish to find out more, without being entirely swamped in unfamiliar context and feeling frustrated for not knowing enough.

Pro-tip : Planescape : Torment was one of the first games (that I can recall and have played at the very least) that used death as a  gameplay mechanic and plot point that tied into the characters backstory as opposed to an obstacle that forced a reload.

It also revolves entirely around the exploration of a single, very profound question.

“What can change the nature of a man?”

2) Any Elder Scrolls game, in particular Morrowind and Skyrim, but for very different reasons.

Morrowind was revolutionary at the moment of its release for presenting a completely open world experience where your character, despite being the ‘Chosen One’ (i.e. the Nerevar) who must save the world, had the option of choosing to ditch the main storyline completely in favor of pursuing other goals and interests, and just generally faffing about in the world.

Skyrim took this ideal and exemplified it to new heights entirely by making a game that, to this day I find impossible to finish, despite having played it for well over 4 years. And the incredible capability of the community to innovate and keep the game up-to-date even so long after its’ release can be seen easier by use of screenshots:

The reasons for both of these things?
1) Support for mods, which are player made alterations/additions to the game.
2) A very well defined gameworld with established lore and races, which does a LOT for immersion and the feeling of emergent gameplay, this applies more to Morrowind in particular (in my opinion) than to Skyrim, as I feel Bethesda sort of went off the rails with Skyrim and aimed for too large a game, while not having enough content to make the game world feel alive. This is only in the vanilla (unmodded) version however, as there are an ample number of mods that make the world of Skyrim come to life.

Pro – tip: You want to know how to not ever start a game, look at the intro cinematic for Skyrim. It’s dull, colorless and generally irritating enough to the point that people have developed mods to skip this bit entirely.

3) The Witcher series.

Made by CDProjektRed, these games are an inspiration to every independent developer as they exhibit how a bunch of video game fans can actually just get together with no idea of how to make a game worthy of AAA quality, and just do it, with class and precision.

Adopted from a series of novels written in Polish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher games have always excelled at two things:

1) Creating a world that is not so black and white, but rather defined by shades of gray. Where the actions of your character are not always the heroic or best option, but just the only option that seems possible to choose, given your mindset and character as a human being.
These games have so much depth in how they allow you to examine the human condition it is simply incredible.
Unlike the Tolkienesque ideal of a fantasy world where everyone who is good is always honorable and right, and their actions can never be doubted once committed to, and evil is always horrible, monstrous and doomed to fail, the Witcher games are ostensibly about killing monsters, but that is only a sideline to showing us that often, the only monsters that have ever existed are human beings.

What you thought was the best option, for instance, agreeing to search for the wife and daughter of a man who has information you need, only to find out that the very same man is a drunken wife-beater who caused his wife to suffer a miscarriage, which is why her and her daughter fled in the first place, you begin to wonder as to the point of it all.

This is game design at its absolute best. It showcases the human condition, and makes you wonder at the nature of it.
Geralt is not an infallible paragon of virtue. He can make mistakes. He’s not the ideal person, but he IS an actual person. This allows empathy and understanding of motivation, which goes a great deal towards immersion.

2) Making you feel the weight of your actions with definite consequences. The world of the Witcher is not in the least bit static or unchanging.

Often times the decisions you make can affect the lives of individuals or entire communities. Choosing to save a village from an onslaught of monsters, or having the decision to simply walk away and leave them to their plight, it empowers the player in an entirely different and superior way than to force them to always do ‘What is right’ and expected of them.
There are no right decisions in the Witcher.
There are only actions, and their consequences.

Pro tip: The first game was a bit rough-shod in its handling of how Geralt could acquire cards of the women he slept with, which I’ll admit was tasteless and derogatory to women by somehow making them out to be something as simple as possessions to be owned, but they have matured greatly with time and experience.

4) Any game by From Software (Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne)

Another epic maker of RPGs with a focus on combat as opposed to story (at first glance), From Software have perfected the art of telling a story without the need for handholding the player from start to finish.

Any player of these games would tell you right away, that the single most interesting thing about these games, is the world in which they are set.
Be it Drangleic, Lordran or Boletaria, the set design and mood they establish for all of these games do so much more to create a narrative than any amount of dialogue or character interaction can.

In a genre famed for information dumps (i.e. providing a seemingly inordinate amount of information to a person who should be a part of that world already and thus aware of all of those things), From Software just turns this idea on its’ head entirely and makes the story something crafted within the players mind, with gentle suggestions and subtle pushes from the developers side. This does SO MUCH for immersion I cannot begin to tell you the effect it has unless you play these games.

Playing a Dark Souls game is truly terrifying and exploratory in every sense of it, because of the lack of knowledge of what is going to happen every time you turn a corner, as well as the tension and suspense that is established by creating a world that is just so dark and out of place in relation to other fantasy worlds we have to expect.
I could go on and on with this, but seriously, get your hands on this game if you haven’t already.

5) The Bioshock series.

What these games sometimes lack in gameplay and intricacy, they more than make up for in their absolutely insane quality in environment and set design.

The Bioshock games are famed for being very story driven, intense experiences that put you in the middle of a story that grips you from start to finish. The reason I believe they have so much success in immersing the players in these stories is, much like Dark Souls, the worlds they create are so utterly different, expansive, and convincing that the player has no choice except to be caught up in events as they go along.

Seriously, just look at the first shot of Rapture at the beginning of Bioshock 1. This is a scene that deserves to go down in history as a true work of art.

It is just so intriguing to the player that they cannot help but wonder what it is exactly that is going on in this strange and wondrous city, and so the stage is set to hook the player into the dark world that lies underneath all of it.

Add to this a very compelling and detailed storyline with very well fleshed out characters that have believable motivations and reasons for their actions (at least from their viewpoint) and you have all the elements for success.

Something that I always found very intriguing about Bioshock games is their tendency to explore social structures and systems that revolved around anarchy and individualism as opposed to authoritarian ones.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find it informative!

Oh Super pro tip : Watch the webseries Extra Credits. They’ll teach you more about game design boiled down to its integral elements by examining popular video games and their effects on players. Much of what I know about game design is from them.

https://www.youtube.com/user/ExtraCreditz?&ab_channel=ExtraCredits

They’re just the best.

Fan-Fiction as Mods in Games

This is quite an interesting read!

One More Game-Dev and Programming Blog

Today I want to talk about a subject for which I’ve honestly seen little discussion in the game development community. That’s not to say such debate doesn’t exist; if it’s out there, I have largely failed to find it. The issue is this:

What are the effects of fan-fiction on games? Particularly those games which allow user-created mods?

Anyone who’s played role-playing games in the last decade probably knows what franchise I’m about to discuss. But before that I want to explain the impetus behind this post.

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Acceptance into the Razer OSVR Project!

It always feels like forever since my last blog post. Why is that? =(

I really need to learn how to stick to a posting schedule.

Anyway, this post is just a little celebratory broadcast of the fact that the folks over at Razer were kind enough to accept me as a developer in their new Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) project.

For those of you unaware of the fact, alongside the other commercial VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, HTC Re Vive etc., Razer has decided to back the OSVR Framework in an attempt to boost VR as a community effort, and not just proprietary technology that is obscure and locked away to the upper echelons of their massive corporations. =/

Okay I’m clearly overstating the matter, but it irks me that something like Virtual Reality would possibly remain in the hands of the few as an arcane topic as opposed to being available for all to contribute to and understand.

Oculus for instance have released their SDK – in – progress to be available free of cost to developers to create content on. The caveat being that all of this content is going to be used in retail when the commercial release of their actual consumer headset happens in Q1 2016.

I get that as a corporation and a company, you gotta make money, but hey a Repo on GitHub wouldn’t hurt would it?

Compare that to the level of freedom and exposure that the OSVR project has, which can be seen on GitHub at this link below:

https://github.com/OSVR

It’s essentially available for anyone to contribute to, as a group or solo effort, in an attempt to make VR a community achievement as opposed to a money – making one.

That is pretty damn admirable by my books. And if you’re wondering how much skill you might need to get started on this, don’t hesitate, contact the kind folks at Razer by sending them an email:

osvr@razerzone.com.

I’m a humble undergraduate student of computer science, with an intermediate grasp of coding at best. Quite honestly I might have gotten myself in waaaaaaay over my head. But that isn’t going to stop me from trying!

Wish me luck guys! And I hope to see you on the GitHub pulling and pushing like the rest of us work horse developers! =)

osvr4.0

The Whisperer in The Darkness

So close.

But a hair’s breadth away from absolute enlightenment. What would you have done?

————————————————————————————————————————–

Reality is a fragile thing. Fragile and complex. Subject to the whims of entities far beyond our conception.

We crawl in the dirt and the mud, we cry out for companionship into the darkness and mourn our eternal loneliness. And have the arrogance to assume that we, hairless pink primates perched on a tiny rock, part of a minor galaxy set in a fairly desolate and unimportant part of this vast and unknowable Universe, have the ability to comprehend reality?

The sheer hubris of it. A curious kind of solipsism, is it not?

I long ago accepted the truth. I hold no more illusions about myself or those whom I once called brethren anymore.

Creation is the most cruel joke that has ever been played. What could exceed the malevolence of placing sentient beings born with an innate need to search for meaning, in a cage bereft of any?

This is a story of truth, dear reader. Think me not a nihilist or delusional. I have merely seen the light, cast as it was by a hideously gibbous source, it is a realization that is almost entirely removed from sanity.

Almost.

Who I am is unimportant.

What matters is this story.

————————————————————————————————————————–

“Thank God!” I say to myself. After years of toil and hardship, I had finally done it. My name would go down in the annals of archaeology for all time. My achievement lauded for its worth and its significance taught to children centuries after I am long dust.

In my hands, undeniable proof of the existence of a civilization that predates the Harappan and Egyptian societies by millennia. Eons even.

A stone statuette, of exquisite craftsmanship and design. Made by hands and tools that are far too skilled and subtle to suggest anything but a creator of utmost ability and unprecedented capability for a time so far removed in the past.

Truly, the mind boggles. And not in the least because of the strangeness of the statuette itself.

Made of a dark material, very much like onyx or basalt, yet still not readily identifiable. Perhaps it is an element that is no longer found on Earth? A line of questioning to be followed up at a later time.

The most intriguing facet of the artifact is its design. I cannot begin to identify its subject matter. Was it made as an effigy to honor and worship a god of some dead religion? That could be so, evidenced by the intricacy of the detail and the strange markings carved into the base of the statuette.

I decided to carry forward with this theory, until something more valid presented itself.

The figure depicted by the artifact was truly well represented, despite me having absolutely no clue what it was. A bizarre, nightmarish conjugation bearing no similarity to any animal I have seen, or any one else I’d wager. It stood upright on two legs, and seemed vaguely humanoid, but there the similarity ended.

A face composed of a mass of tentacles writhing about. A skeletal body with skin stretched over a frame that did not echo the normal rib-cage structure of mammals at all but rather seemed composed of bits of bone and sinew oddly strewn about its insides, grotesquely bulging in some places and concave in others. Legs ending in clawed feet that gripped the base of the statuette firmly.

And the eyes were the most unsettling part, seeming black and empty at first, on closer inspection, inset with gemstones of a similarly non – identifiable origin as the rest of the statuette. These gems were black of hue and flecked with specks, seeming like the night sky. On gazing into them, I was reminded of the cold black vastness of space, of unknowable reaches and incomprehensible dimensions far transcending the feeble circle of light that extends beyond earth…

And suddenly I catch myself.

“Where did that last bit come from?” I think. Those thoughts didn’t seem like they’d originated from me. On closer rumination, they didn’t seem like words I’d even say. A cold shiver ran through me, and with great unease and trepidation I put the statuette away for the moment.

“Need some sleep.”

That was surely it, it had just been too much work and too many late nights. But at last, the fruit of my efforts revealed and well in hand, I could finally get a decent nights rest.

“Time for bed then.”

I place the statuette in a protective casing, designed to secure it from the worst of the elements on its transport from my dig site to a facility where it could properly be carbon – dated, studied and examined in greater detail.

I take my glasses off, and rub my eyes, wiping the exhaustion of a long day and settle into bed.

I was hopeful, I’ll admit it.
“Things are starting to look up.” I say to myself, in the vague fugue state between sleep and dreams.

If only I had known how wrong I was.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I cannot honestly describe what happened next. It is forever shrouded in uncertainty by the sheer strangeness of what occurred and the surreal, almost unreal nature of dreams.

All I can remember is an unending experience of sheer horror and panic. I was set upon by the darkest of fears, hounded by the most aberrant of creatures, killed and returned to life only to be tortured again to the grave, to wait for the cycle to be repeated eternally. All of this in instants that seemed like centuries to my minds eye.

And the worst part? I could give no voice to anything I had to say. Throughout this eternal torment, this hell of incessant pain, I could not scream.

For I had no mouth.

Imagine it. Trapped for an eternity in the deepest and darkest nightmares of mankind, and I was denied even the simplest expression of my suffering.

It was then that reality began to break down, and I began to see things clearer.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I woke up covered in sweat, with a blood curdling scream resounding in my ears, and it took me the longest time before I realized that I was its source.

My throat rattled as my vocal cords refused to put up with any more abuse and the scream was abruptly cut off.

I took no action for a while then, except to breathe and shudder, calming and reassuring myself that I had not lost all sanity.

I was never a man to put faith in the supernatural, but whatever had just happened had shaken my convictions to their very core. Perhaps not all was as tranquil and logical as it seemed with the universe.

And somehow, I knew the reason for this, to be the discovery of the statuette.

I rose from the bed, still covered in my own sweat, and moved shakily to the casing which held the artifact. I slowly uncovered it, moving warily as in fear of the inanimate object striking out at me.

And indeed when I gazed at it, I knew something was wrong. In the dim of night, the statuette seemed to drink in the darkness. Right into those maddening eyes, voids of depth beyond comprehension.

And just as my nerve broke and I thought to put the statuette away, for I could not keep looking at it without the most absolute animal terror and panic coursing through my body, defying all logic, reason, understanding and education, the Elder One spoke to me, in a voice that was kin to the dying of galaxies and the collapsing of stars.

IT CAN BE YOURS.

I am beyond fear now, moving into the realm of madness. My body no longer obeys my commands, numb to the will of the mind that animates it.

I ask into the ether, “Who are you?” knowing that some greater power was at play here and now. This was no longer the realm of ordinary mortals.

AZATHOTH. 

As the name entered my consciousness, I was suddenly pressed upon by a multitude of impressions, each of them more horrifying than the last.

Of a dark and monstrous place in the far reaches of the Cosmos, where the Elder Ones hold court.

In that amorphous blight of netherwordly confusion where chaos and destruction breed in infernal and eternal cycles.

In the hideous nuclear chaos that bubbles beyond the confines of angled space, in that place of ultimate contradiction, far removed from our reality, but still central to all that exists, is where he waits.

The Lurking Horror, he who created the Universe, and must slumber forevermore. He rests now, gnawing on the edges of reality, eternally embroiled in restless sleep.

In the inconceivable and unlighted chambers that lie beyond time and space, he lies forever unconscious, lulled to sleep by the music of the spheres and the song of the stars, surrounded by his uneasy Pantheon.

For if he were to wake, there would no longer be worlds or Gods.

I, AM THE DESTROYER.

And with that, all that I had known, loved and thought true, shattered to a million shards within me. I was broken. My mind a ruined wreck, reeling from the revelations I had just witnessed.

For there was no comprehending the truth, without any mortal mind shrinking from it in terror and collapsing on itself, in rebellion of the true malevolence of existence, and the false idol that we call, Free Will.

All of us, are but playthings for Him.

I cannot, will not say his name. For I am too afraid.

He dreams, and in his dreams, he subverts the reality he has bestowed upon us. Creatures of consciousness, we are but the maggots that feed upon the fetid meat of space and time.

The universe is a corpse, His body that extends beyond infinity and eternity.

A rotting and infernal corpse that is home to an innumerable number of nameless horrors. We are insects, born to be fed on and toyed with at the pleasure of entities so primordial they defy understanding.

IT CAN BE YOURS.

I scream now, my words an unintelligible shriek of madness and pain, almost no longer human. For this creature, this glorious and horrifying God – thing, sound was but a hindrance. Reaching past me, into the substance of my being itself, he shows me what could be mine.

RISE.

I rise to my feet. There are no longer any tears, words or screams left in me. Whatever I am now, is no longer human.

In my last mortal act, I nod my head, and step forward into His embrace.

I leave who I am, and this forsaken reality behind me.

So close.

But a hair’s breadth away from absolute enlightenment. What would you have done?

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Image taken from here : http://cdn-imgs-mag.aeon.co/images/2013/11/HP-Lovecraft-by-Lee-Moyer.jpg