BOOK REVIEW – BLOOD, SWEAT AND PIXELS BY JASON SCHREIER

bloodsweatpixel

Blood, Sweat and Pixel is a very enjoyable book, containing the stories behind the creation of various video games. It gives the reader insight into how this process is never straight forward nor easy and is rather a perilous journey undertaken by developers out of sheer love for the medium.

The creation process of various video games are covered, from the successful, such as The Witcher 3 and Uncharted 4, to the ill-fated Star Wars 1313.

The book also conveys the sad stories of how many video games outlive the studios that created them, and the reality that very few video game development studios remains afloat in the challenging video game industry.

The reader is also given great insight into the challenges video game developers face, from tight budgets and technological difficulties to dealing with tyrannical publishers. It gives the reader a much greater sense of appreciation for what the developers endure to make their creative visions a reality.

As someone who loves video games and is interested in the development process behind them, I found this book highly entertaining and informative. I struggled to put this book down and would highly recommend it.   

BOOK REVIEW – BLOOD, SWEAT AND PIXELS BY JASON SCHREIER

A Story About A Game

15 Years ago I wrote a small game called Hellspawn and I rediscovered it again when I was going through some old backup discs. It is a top down shooter and was developed in Borland C++ Builder (I think version 6). It was a very basic game (especially looking back now) from when I was still a very inexperienced developer, still studying to get a degree.

So if anyone is interested here it is: HellSpawn

To get it working on windows 10:

Use Hellspawn.exe to start the game, but first in file properties:

  • Set executable to run in compatibility mode  – Windows 98 / Windows ME
  • Reduced Color mode – 16-bit
  • Override DPI Scaling Behavior, Scaling performed by – Application
  • Can also set to run in 640 x 480, however is best to change screen resolution in windows to 1024 x 768 for best experience.

compatibility

The controls are as follows:

  • Arrow keys to move
  • Left ctrl keys to fire weapon

Simply kill all the enemies to proceed to the next level.

On another note I have some Steam game keys to give away!

For a chance to win one simply email killerrobotics.me@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Killer Robotics Steam Giveaway’ and for the message content just be creative.

Winners will be randomly selected and announced via twitter.

A Story About A Game

Another VR post and some updates

VR3

In a previous post, DIY VR Part 1, we took a look at apps that allowed a user to stream PC games to a smartphone in stereoscopic 3D, which could then be used with a Google Cardboard compatible headset to experience VR.

This worked well, however the apps examined in the previous post did not support or were not optimized for games specifically designed for SteamVR. For SteamVR to start up a compatible HMD (Head Mounted Display, like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) needs to be detected, something the apps covered previously did not support, with the exception of TrinusVR which does support this, however it does not support USB tethering with iOS which has a significant negative effect on the experience.

Today we will look at an app that does fully supports this functionality, iVRy.

iVRy is an iOS app that allows SteamVR games to be streamed to an iPhone, and as with the previously mentioned apps, utilizes the phone’s gyroscope and accelerometers for head tracking and movement.

iVRy comprises of a app that is installed on your iPhone and a SteamVR HMD driver to be installed alongside SteamVR on your PC.

The iPhone is then connected to the PC either via Wi-Fi or USB (preferably USB as the results are greatly improved). The next step is to start the iVRy app on the phone and then lastly launch

SteamVR (which will detect the phone as a compatible HMD) and you are up and running.

The app has various settings to optimally configure your VR experience, such as lens distortion correction and field of view settings, with a large list of Google Cardboard Compatible Headsets preconfigured for ease of use.

Another feature of the app is that it auto adjusts image quality to ensure a high frame rates, reducing VR sickness.

iVRy supports a lot of SteamVR titles, working with any game that does not require motion controls, so any game that supports a traditional controller should work. Saying this a controller is pretty much required and any Steam compatible controller will work.

iVRy has a free trial version that does not limit play time, but reduces color saturation after 5 minutes of play time, making the image appear in shades of grey. To unlock the full premium version of iVRy costs $6.99, which removes the 5 minute limitation.

If you are an Android user a similar app is available called VRidge by RiftCat, which costs $14.99. It does however offer a great deal more functionality, thus the higher price.

Now on a related topic, I recently had the opportunity to play around with a HTC Vive at the Microsoft Store at NorthPark Center in Dallas Texas, and it was an amazing experience. I played through a series of experiences, starting with a tutorial based on the game Portal and then flowing into The Blu, AudioShield and finally Space Pirate Trainer. The experience was extremely immersive and I got goose bumps, it was truly mind blowing. The motion controls and room tracking of the Vive work extremely well and helps greatly with the immersion. If you ever have an opportunity to use a HTC Vive I would highly recommend it.

While I was in Dallas I also went to see some interesting sights, like the Oculus VR Dallas offices, where John Carmack is based.

Now for a quick update on the DIY VR Headset Version 2. I have acquired the parts for the new headset, including two 1920×1280 (60 Hz) 3.5inch (89mm) displays (one for each eye) and a Leap Motion, which I will use to implement motion controls. I have decided for the version 2 to use two smaller independent displays mounted in portrait mode (similar to what is done in the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, post Development Kit 1 which used one screen).

I will also look at using iVRy with the Leap Motion to get motion controls working in Steam VR. So watch this space, some exciting things are coming.

Another VR post and some updates

DIY VR Headset for $80 (DIY VR Part 2)

IMG_1817

The purpose of this series of posts was to look at ways to experience VR at home for the lowest cost possible. In Part 1 of DIY VR, we took a look at using a smart phone and a Google cardboard compatible headset to stream computer games to the phone in stereoscopic 3D. The main problem with this approach was that it was still relatively expensive as it required a smart phone (iOS or Android) to function.

Now in part 2 we will look at building a VR headset from scratch. My initial goal was to do this for under $150(USD), however after shopping around and changing some parts out for alternatives I managed to get this down to around $80. So let us get started.

The parts required are:

  • Toggle Flick Switch
  • 2x LED
  • 1x resistor 150 Ohm
  • 1x Micro USB cable (at least 2 meters long)
  • 1x HDMI Cable (thin ones work best as they hinder movement less, also at least 2 meters long)
  • Some jumper wires
  • DC Adapter plug 5V 3A (Raspberry Pi compatible one works great)
  • Push Button
  • Google Cardboard Compatible VR Headset (I recommend one with a phone compartment door that opens as it gives better access than the ones which uses a tray that slides in)
  • 6DOF MPU 6050 3Axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Arduino Micro (can use off brand alternative)
  • 5inch RaspberryPi LCD Screen 800×480 with HDMI interface

All of these parts can be acquired on AliExpress for about $80 ($82.78 to be precise), as shown in the image below:

Resistorflick_switchwireDC AdapmicroUSBHeadsetpushbuttonledMPU6050lcdHDMIarduinoMicrototals

You will also require Tridef3D or similar software (there are some free alternatives, but I have not had a chance to give them a try at present). Tridef3D is used to convert any Direct X 9/10/11 game into stereoscopic 3D. Tridef3D offers a 14-day free trial, which is plenty to give this a try. The full version of Tridef3D retails for $39.99.

Now that we have all the required components, let us begin with the assembly.

The assembly comprises of 3 main elements:

  1. The Arduino Micro circuit (containing the MPU 6050, push button and led)
  2. The Wiring (providing connectivity to Arduino Micro and power to Screen)
  3. Inserting the screen in the headset and connecting the micro USB cables as well as the HDMI cable.

The Arduino Micro circuit

The diagram below illustrates how the different components need to be connected to the Arduino Micro:

vr_bb1

The push button uses digital pin 5 and the MPU 6050 is connected to the Arduino Micro as follows:

– MPU 6050 SCL pin to Digital Pin 3 on Arduino

– MPU 6050 SDA pin to Digital Pin 2 on Arduino

– MPU 6050 VCC to 5V pin on Arduino

– MPU 6050 GND to GND pin on Arduino

The code to be loaded on the Arduino is as follows:

#include <Mouse.h>
#include <Wire.h>
#include <I2Cdev.h>
#include <MPU6050.h>

MPU6050 mpu;
int16_t ax, ay, az, gx, gy, gz;
int vx, vy;
int inputPin = 5;
bool enableMouse;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);
Wire.begin();
mpu.initialize();
enableMouse = true;
pinMode(inputPin, INPUT);
if (!mpu.testConnection()) {
while (1);
}
Serial.println("Running...");
}

void loop() {
int val = digitalRead(inputPin);
if (val == HIGH) { // check if the input is HIGH
//Place logic here to execute when button is pressed
//Disables mouse movement while button is pressed, this allows you to set your view angle easily.
enableMouse = false;
}
else
{
enableMouse = true;
}
if(enableMouse)
{
mpu.getMotion6(&ax, &ay, &az, &gx, &gy, &gz);
vx = -(gy)/150;
vy = (gz+100)/150;
Mouse.move(vx, vy);
delay(20);
}
}

Just note that the orientation of the MPU 6050 makes a difference to which of the axis of the gyroscope will be used. For the above code the MPU 6050 was mounted on the side of the headset as shown in the pictures below:

IMG_1795

In the event of the MPU 6050 being mounted with a different orientation you might have to substitute between the gx, gy and gz values until the desired configuration is achieved.

For my configuration I am rotating around the Y and Z axis.

Also the numbers associated with calculation of vx and vy might have to be tweaked to get the results (movement speed etc.) you desire.

I also added a push button, that when pressed temporarily disables the gyroscopic mouse movement. This is useful when you want to reset you point of view in games.

I attached all the parts of this circuit to the VR Headset using double-sided tape.

The Wiring

In order to have as few cables as possible connecting to the VR headset I modified the USB cable so that it pulls external power from a DC power adapter (a single USB port will not be able to power both the Arduino and the 5 inch LCD) as well as splitting into 2 micro USBs on one end (one only provided power to the LCD and the other one both power and connectivity to Arduino.) the below diagram shows how the wiring is connected:

VR2_bb

For reference a USB cables contains 4 wires:

  • Red wire – +5V DC
  • White or Yellow – Data connectivity
  • Green – Data Connectivity
  • Black – GND

I also included a switch to turn the power on and off (this is useful to turn off the mouse functionality until it is needed, otherwise it will interfere with mouse movement when it is not desired) as well as an LED to show when the headset is powered on.

IMG_1807

Inserting Screen in Headset and connecting all the wiring

The LCD screen is held in place by the clamps in the headset used to hold a phone (it is a snug fit). Then simply connect the 2 micro USBs to the LCD and Arduino respectively (ensuring the plug with the data connections is plugged into the Arduino and that the power only micro USB is plugged into the power socket on the LCD display). Try to run the cables in the extra spaces in the Headset around the screen in order to keep them out of the way.

Lastly connect the HDMI cable to the LCD.

The assembly is now complete.

IMG_1817

Connecting headset to PC and setting up software

To connect the headset to your PC do the following:

  1. Plug the DC adapter into mains power.
  2. Plug the USB connector into an available USB port in your PC.
  3. Connect HDMI cable into and available HDMI port on your PC graphics card (You can use a DVI port with an adapter)

Go to display settings and click on detect displays, then set Multiple displays to “Duplicate these Displays” and make sure your resolution is set to 800×480.

Open up Tridef3D and start-up a game.

You might have to play around with each individual games graphical settings as well as mouse sensitivity to get the best results.

For future enhancements I will look at getting a higher definition LCD screen and also work on head movement tracking by using infrared LEDs and a Wiimote (Wiimote used as a IR Camera).

And there you have it a DIY VR Headset for $80. Give it a try.

Here is a short demonstration video:

DIY VR Headset for $80 (DIY VR Part 2)

Double Book Review

Today we will have a look at 2 books, both related to video games, so let us get started.

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die – Updated Edition

1001 games

This is a very hefty book, weighing in just shy of 1000 pages. The book is beautifully printed in full colour on high quality glossy paper similar to what you will find in a  high-end magazine.

As indicated by the name 1001 Video games are covered. The Video games  are categorised and  divided into section based on the decade in which they were released, i.e. the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

There is a detailed description provided for each game as well as a screen shot.

I really like this book as it triggers nostalgic memories of paging through video game magazines as a child, looking at what the next big release will be. I do however believe that this is not the kind of book you will pick up and read from cover to cover, I for example have limited interest in video games released in the 1970s so I skimmed through this section and found the best use of this book is simply picking it up from time to time and looking up a specific game.

Just keep in mind that the game selection is based on the authors’ personal preferences, so there is a chance that your favourite game might not be included in the list. But even considering this, I found this to be a great book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in video games over the last few decades.

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games

151games

The first difference between this book and the previously reviewed one is that this is more of a coffee table book. It is also fully colour printed on high quality glossy paper and is beautifully hardbound. The book also divides the games into the decades they were released in, but also focuses on the systems on which they were released.

This book has a much more artistic feel with screen shots, box art and marketing artwork for each game covered as well as information about the game, its history as well as little factoids relating to the games.

I really enjoyed reading this book and although it covers a lot fewer games, found it to be of a more consumable size.

There is also a few pages dedicated to the leading consoles of each decade along with accompanying artwork and information.

I would recommend this book as it is great simply paging through it and looking at the amazing video game artwork over the past 40 years.

Double Book Review

E3: The Games that excite me the most

E3

With the recent conclusion of E3 I thought this would be a good time to share some of the games announced that I am the most excited for. Here are the 8 games I am looking forward to the most, in no particular order:

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

Finally a new Zelda game and not just a HD remake! I am extremely excited for this game and from what I saw it looks fantastic. This game looks amazing with an open world, some form of crafting and resource gathering and a lot of freedom.

Days Gone

I will start out by saying I loved State of Decay on the Xbox 360, an open world survival zombie apocalypse game that I got really into during a time where I was binge watching the Walking Dead. And now finally an  open world survival zombie game for the Playstation 4. I can’t wait. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the hoarding in this game, what appeared to be thousands of zombies flowed like water towards the protagonist. Truly astonishing.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Myself along with many others were extremely disappointed when it was announced that Silent Hills was cancelled. The Playable Teaser had caused huge waves and was truly one of the most scary gaming experiences I have ever experienced. Resident Evil 7 took more than a little inspiration from the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, and this is not a bad thing. I have played and completed the playable demo of Resident Evil 7 and although I found it less scary that the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, but it was still great. I can’t wait to see what the full game will be like.

State of Decay 2

As I mentioned earlier I am a huge fan of the original State of Decay, so I am more than a little excited to see more of its sequel.

God of War 4

God of War 4 appears to be vastly different from its predecessors and that is refreshing. I loved all the God of War games, but while playing God of War 3 Remastered on the PS4 I couldn’t help feeling that the gameplay dynamics started feeling rather outdated. This might breath new life into the series.

The Last Guardian

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were both masterpieces, showing how games can be far more than most people ever expected, some might even say becoming art. After years of delays and falling silent, finally a release date has been given to one of the most anticipated games.

Death Stranding

After the debacle between Kojima Productions and Konami, which resulted in the cancellation of Silent Hills, no one knew what would be next for Hideo Kojima. Now we know and not surprisingly it weird. As with Silent Hills it stars Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame.

Detroit: Become Human

I loved Quantic Dreams’ previous two games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, and I am eagerly awaiting their next endeavor. Once again it appears that choice plays a major role, however from the trailer shown it appears that the choices available have significantly been increased, and the consequences of those choices appear to be  vastly different.

E3 this year was great, and we have a lot to look forward to.

 

E3: The Games that excite me the most