Saturday, 17 November 2007

Day316 WoWing Machinima and more Crysis

WoW Machinima
I am bout half way through my Machinima for Dummies book (having a ball reading it btw - Hugh and Johnnie make for a fun ride). Chapter 11 is all about making Machinima inside World of Warcraft. The chapter and the idea has some serious merit, and could bring to it enough creative input to re-energise the game for me. Maybe telling a story about the journey of some characters that we might roll up. It could be documentary like perhaps, otherwise it could just tell a tale inside the warcraft world but with a twist. I might discuss this with Vroom, Dave and co - see if it has some legs.
I wrote up a bunch of rough story ideas, any of which could evolve into something bigger - a fun idea.

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Movies
Onto some inspiration in this field. There is way too much out there to get a sense of it all this quickly - but I did watch Redshift Interlude which was cool. Blizzard are supporting the idea of Machinima, just check the WoW machinima pages - there is obviously more to come, but this is good to see. That said they protect their environment, so we cant make our millions using it, and we even need their approval to enter things in festivals or air it on tv etc (not that I have aspirations either way).

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Crysis
Working through the objectives, everything is much more military and combat-centric than HL2, not yet quite so interesting plotwise either. I do like crouching in the bushes, going prone at the edge of things and using our suits abilities. Our first taste of the rocket-launcher was fun and he vehicles are great. The learning curve is higher than HL2 as well - but I seem to be coping for the most part.


Below is an image of one of the loading screens (how pretty is that) and then an ingame shot of a lovely little waterfall spot...

[2 more ingame shots reduced to 800]

Friday, 16 November 2007

Day315 Crysis

Crysis Time
Yes, after much anticipation the journey (both in game and creatively through the editors and coming sdk) has begun.

Editor
The first thing I wanted to do was see the editor in action. At first I could find the blighter, but a dive onto the game DVD and there was the sandbox2 editor installer. After installation I fired up Editor.exe from the games bin32 folder (didnt seem to get an icon automatically alas). Then when it came up I loaded up one of the maps and zoomed around admiring the in-editor game look. More on this in coming days.

[shrunken screenshot of me in the sandbox2 editor for Crysis - yay it works]

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The Game
After the sneak preview of the editor - it was time to play.

Intro
After starting up a new game and choosing the difficulty we get a stunning preview animation mixing in-game graphical glory with video of the suit in action protecting us from bullets and feeding our body with stuff to make us faster, stronger and just plain mighty. This really sets the scene for our super-human like abilities and the lone juggernaut that we will be ingame.

[3 screenshots from the cutscene intro showing the suit off - shrunk to 800]

The Start
Once our squad hits the island (not as planned) and the plot and objectives start to unfold there are a few peripheral things I cant help but notice. First when I look down I see my legs - woohoo I have feet (see screenshot below). The animations of my fellow squad members are great, they leap over logs with realistic grace and emote everything they do. The scenery is just sooo beautiful (see more shots below) that I find myself standing on rocks just admiring the view.

[screenshots of the early stages of the game showing my legs and the beautiful island]

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Fraps
Downloaded Fraps 2.9.2 to capture some of the Crysis fun to document things here. The engine doesnt seem to come with this feature as just something you can do - how weird is that!!

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GMod Juries
The Grad Project juries using GMod ran today - more on this after some debriefing next week.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Day314 AEAF Day3

Australian Effects and Animation Festival - Thu
Lucky last day, again completely dominated by MacbookPros by the presenters, this time round we had 4 of the Macs and 2 used DVDs - no Windows to be seen. I am still amazed how much trouble we have to endure as far as connecting machines to projector's go. With every type of hardware, OS and such there always seem to be issues that need to be fixed in semi-random ways.

I am really glad I took the time and dollars to attend the event - though I feel it really needs more humans in attendance to make it sustainable.

Peter Nofz : Imageworks
Peter's worked as DFX Supervisor on Spiderman 3, and kicked off his session with a showreel of the cool bits from the film - and boy is there a ton of class in there. This was his third Spiderman film and commented that even though the effects shotwise (1000) didnt rise much - the complexity in those shots ramped up significantly.

He covered the creation of the buildings and environments in Maya which were very accurate re-creations of actual buildings in New York. One reason they felt justified in going to town on the detail was so the assets could be reused in future projects. Many of the interiors in these buildings were just fisheye images mapped to simple boxes behind windows an curtains.

We were shown plenty of detail on the design iteration and creation of the 'goo' follwed up unsurprisingly with extended coverage of sand. The sand code had their 3 coders working for 2.5 years to deliver the results in the customised tech they required.

I liked the way they didnt use any mocap for the film, the argument was that these characters arent like normal humans, they are superheroes and as such can be hand animated to do more heroic and spectacular movement.

This presentation was extremely familiar to me - some of the sequences and explanations I have definately seen before. Peter seemed familiar to me as well - but I couldnt quite place the connection. I have blogged on Spiderman 3 of course, on Day142 I covered the film and the amazing concept artwork, plus back on Day137 I was at an AutoDesk event with similar content - but given by Chuck McIlvain...

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The LaB
We had a bunch of presenters for this session, all from Sydney's the LaB (including Peter Spinaze & Richard Geluk). Their talk was predominantly about their creative work on Erky Perky. The kids show which was on the ABC for series 1 and which will be on ch 7 for season 2 starting soon. I didnt know anything about this cute little cartoon until this session, and it is very cool.

They have a very tight and detailed set of processes, timelines and workflows for their entire end-to-end. Their script stages were very defined which fed into storyboards - really beautiful storyboards actually. They would produce a Leica (storyboards cut together with audio and timing) which would go to the production team for animating. The storyboard artist walked us through some of his work - explaining keeping them loose for the first pass, then detailing them up after approval for the animators and more detail for the director and Leica.

They would have 12 episodes running at once in different stages of development. A series would be 6400 shots - HUGE. All done in Maya (even the rendering except the MentalRay occlusion pass at half res).

The lighting was kept very simple with variations added in post. They had an automated character lighting setup that took into account camera position and character locations. The backgrounds were all bright and light - even for the night shots. This was to ensure the chatacters arms stayed visible at all times. They had a very automated Shake workflow which could render up a whole episode on its own apparently.

The animation was based off the Leica and was strongly pose-2-pose based. Their animators were producing 30 seconds of approved animation a week using this method. They had task tracking for all the staff (much like IT job queues) plus scripted and automated version numbering (auto increment plus duplicate a 0 version for the latest). The farm was automated as well allowing them to create all this with just 26 staff.


[some images of the Erky Perky characters from the official site]

They also showed us a little bit of the breakdown for their Arnott's Pizza Shapes TVC. All up this session was very informative and revealing - great stuff.

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Jami Levesque : Animalia
Another children's animated cartoon. Jami worked directly for Animalia and was tasked with keeping their legions of production vendors working harmoneously and productively. They would bake in lots of lighting data in Maya to cut render times. The rendering itself was in Renderman which allowed them to get multiple layers of data from a single pass - kinda neat. Again things were composited in Shake - this was definately the trend in the presentations as a whole.

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John Dickinson : Adobe
This was the Masterclass session in After Effects. John broke down the process he used to create the 1 min promo spot for Fox Classics. His AE file was very neat, making extensive use of nested Comps and good naming etc. He used masks to simulate primative rotoscoping and some linked expressions to control things from high-level objects.

His spot for Crime Investigation Channel was nifty as well.

Rob Bredow : Sony Pictures Imageworks
This session was all about Surf's Up, which I havent seen yet. After seeing this though I am sad that I didnt catch this at the cinema, it is not only visually stunning - but it looks like a pack of laughs as well. Rob was one of 2 VFX Supervisors on the film and delivered a 5 hour version of the session at this years SIGGRAPH which is on his website at www.185vfx.com

Rob did a great job of walking us through the creative and then technical process of bringing parts of this special little film to life. First he covered the "animated documentary about sufing penguins" logic and the adherance to this surfing doco feel. After checking out the reference they built a system that allowed them to use a real camera linked up to Maya that allowed them to film the CG characters as if they were holding a camera to bring that handycam feel to the camera work. This is a very clever use of technology in my opinion. It obviously worked as they then used this method for 85%+ of the shots.

On their journey to create this animated doc they used 'characterised reality'. The characters (as in a doc) are aware of the camera and behave differently in front of it. The voice talent often worked without scripts to maintain this feel.

We were shown a fair bit of detail on how they researched and developed the technology for the waves. They went with a keyframable model rather than a sim which then would generate particles for white water and such. So basically it was blend-shape driven on top of their 3 basic wave types with lots of secondary controls. The rendering was interesting - at times having to deal with 1.5 billion particles (they had to develop software to send this to renderman in pieces :-) The water is basically opaque with everything fakes with a huge number of render layers on the water surface. The underwater bits were often built with macros and in post.

The production team was 250 artists working away for the 2.5 years - since the DVD is coming early next year I will have to wait until then.


[some images of the waves from Surf's Up's review on the Rotten Tomatoes site]

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Andrew Hellen & Dave Morley : Fuel
The final session was about the new Aussie movie Rogue (all about a nastly piece of salt water croc). The set was built in Melbourne and then they treated things to give the Northern Territory feel to things (in Shake again).

They modelled the lair of the croc in 3D first (Maya) from which they generated slices which were built from steel at full size to create the set.

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Crysis is here
I have it in my hot little hands, though I didnt get to play yet. I went to bed with the little install progress bar sliding along gently - the tenstion mounts.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Day313 AEAF Day2

Australian Effects and Animation Festival - Wed
Another great day at the event. This time the Mac/PC split of the presenters was more even, 3 MacbookPros, 1 Dell, 1 IBM and one desktop PC (which only ran html btw). Another thing of note is the dominance of the Guys, all the presenters have been male and the audience is mostly guys as well. I still find this most perplexing, given the story telling nature - oh well.

Every one of the presenters ran out of time and there was only time for a very short burst of Q&A from the floor. I wish there was a way to give each of them longer actually, anyhow onto the breakdown of what I got from each of the sessions.

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Theo Bialak : Sony Pictures Imageworks
This was always going to be a great session and Theo didnt disappoint in showing off the splendour that is BEOWULF. First up he talked through the epic mocap work they had to do in generating the data used to drive all the characters. The mocap set was big by these standards and sported between 224 and 260 cameras capturing the body and facial data of the shots. Some shots has 30+ characters on the set at a time, which is why so many cameras were required. They also had special new tech to detect the eye movements and blinks from electrical impulses. The setup had each actor sporting 250 markers and was generating some 350GB of daya each day. This added up to 17.4TB of mocap data alone for the project.

The modeling (in Maya) required very high-res and detailed models with procedural elements for things like chainmail. Theo walked us through several characters and details as they evolved from concept to final shot. They used a system of parts which could be combined to build the array of extras and minor characters everywhere. They built a new custom fire renderer and again built a library of fire elements for many of the shots and uses.

Theo covered briefly the second team working on the 3D (think IMAX) version over the 2.5 years of production. He also mentioned in Q&A how they tried to keep the number of passes down to a minimum to keep a handle on the scale/scope. They had some 6500 processors working on rendering - YIKES and even had 60+ lighting artists working at once on shots which just shows the scale.


[still images of Beowulf from the Rotten Tomatoes site]

The stills do look stunning, but for me the animation is butting heads pretty hard with the Uncanny Valley in a big way. This was covered only very briefly in Q&A, but only fleetingly - I would have loved more. The animation still feels solidly CG to me and thus feels awkward in much the same way as this film's only real peers Final Fantasy and The Polar Express.

What remains now is to charge off and see the film!!!

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Allan McKay : Catastrophic FX
This session was a change of pace with Allan walking us through some of the effects that can be created with FumeFX (he was using 3DsMax). He showed us clever work in both particles and fluids, how the simulating is the slow part. He ran through plenty of fire and smoke/dust examples plus a bunch with particles like Superman Returns' supernova shot with its 700 million particles :-)

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Damian Allen
This session was more of a show'n'tell for Apple's Motion3 software that ships as part of the Final Cut Studio. This compositor uses the graphics card firepower to show us in realtime what we are getting and can do some fun and intuitive things with behaviours and library elements in 2D and 3D.

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Evan Jacobs
Back into cinema-land with Resident Evil: Extinction and the effects work required to bring the latest in the series to us. Evan gave us a fun tour through some of the CG challenges and how he faught to keep as many real elements in shots as possible, be they actors or models. He felt that this delivered better results than fully CG shots.

There were lots of anecdotes around the desert shooting in Mexico, though the clear blue skies did work nicely for them as a built-in blue screen set. They seemed quite precious about Milla and seemed to face replace body doubles when the shooting was too unpleasant. They used Massive for their CG zombies and there are lots of them.

He did mention that at one point they had to scan 22,000 frames of footage for a scene in CG post which at $1 a frame adds up fast. In fact Evan thought that alot more was being left to post now rather than plan things.

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Sebastian Sylwan : AutoDesk
Sebastian gave us an interesting session with a different feel, coming from AutoDesk, but with his attention on the future and industry trends. He covered ideas around the concept of pipelines and innovation in the industry. He had examples like digital end-to-end, HDRI OpenEXR, Gigapixel Imaging etc. His view was the the increasing reliance on post wasnt simply lack of planning - but rather because so much more creative control can be exercised at this time. He did poke his talk into Uncanny Valley land again (this was the theme of the day really).

Check out the fun of Microsoft's xRez beta - much like Google Earth in logic - very cool.

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Steven Stahlberg
This was one fo the sessions I have been looking forward to the most for what seems like months now. Steven's work is simply stunning and everyone could learn from him. His talk began with some tips on how to stay fresh, alive and learning - 'fertilize your mind'.

Steven covered the Uncanny Valley again as well and coverd some very interesting ideas around archetypes and the anatomy of the Male, Female and Baby.

As far as modelling goes, one tip was to use a perspective camera rather than the default orthographic views (say in Maya) as the reference images would have been taken with a real perspective camera. He covered in great detail from his course notes issues around modelling the female form (with all to frequent apologies for what could be seen as sexist observations :-)
He likes the more organic feel of tris rather than quads. He uses a fold based topology for faces and talked about plenty of the errors his students make. It is not just his new students who miss things though, he gave us examples of things like the bumpy edge of the ribcage. His anotomy lessons on things like the 'carrying angle' where girls have a different angle for their cubital fussa - ie their elbows face up or out more than guys.

Steven gave us plenty of sites to explore such as:
3d.sk : for all that reference imagery
character design blog : Randall Sly's coool blog
beauty check : research on facial attractiveness
face research : more on facial beauty
beauty analysis : Marquardt Beauty Analysis
rey bustos : anatomy education
plus
android blues : Steven's site


[some images of Steven's from his android blues site]

Steven did have a little fun with the golden mean advocates, showing reference to studies showing that we dont really put much store in the ratio - but actually favour others which is interesting.

I soooo wish we could have had him talk for longer - he had us all intrigued and had a heap more to reveal on his techniques and observations on anatomy and generating the form in 2D and 3D.

So this session was a great way to finish day2 - drool.

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My collectors edition of Crysis is sitting at EB Games waiting for me - I will be grabbing it tomorrow, I cant wait to both see it in action and to play with the creation tools.

I also read a bunch more of my Machinima book - it is quite informative and a great read. I feel that the depth of thought required to build a narrative in this (and many other forms) is higher than I had really given credit to before - looks awesome though. I liked that none of the engines are really suitable - they all have good and bad points - it is part of the Machinima lore really...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Day312 AEAF Day1

Australian Effects and Animation Festival - Tue
On my way to the event in the morning I was reading my Machinima for Dummies book, which I felt was quite appriopriate given some of the sessions that were coming our way throughout the day. Even though the budgets for the films we would see represented all count in the many many millions instead.

I will cover a few points on each of the presentations and find the common threads and anecdotes that flavour the event for me.

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Richard Frances-Moore : Weta Digital
To start things off we had Richards lovely NZ accent talking about the CG work on The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. It isnt out yet, but features the Loch Ness Monster and how it grows up befreinded bu little Angus. Richard talked about the benefit of being able to work with the character from previs/design right through the film.

Armed with lots of reference material of dogs and birds and seals etc they prevised up all manner of swim motions and shot sequences. Richard talked quite a bit about the animation of the monster, making sure to keep him an animal and not introduce humanistic qualities. Plus the concept of allowing him to 'fail heroically', much in the vain of Indiana Jones. This drives his character and helps us relate to him. Particularly when they focus on the points where the character needs to make a decision.

They used Maya for all the animation work with a heap of custom tools for muscle, bones, faces, shaders for Renderman, path nailing and more. The pipeline was basically: Model up; slice for the animator rig; animate the shot; publish skeleton (every half second per shot); to the creature dept to animate muscle and skin; bake out just the skin and onto lighting. Some of the animation sequences shown and covered were very clever.

The most striking feature of what we were shown was the stunning realisation of the skin, muscle, sinew and bone on the monster. The way the skin slides over deforming skeleton and musculature with its beautiful texture and translucency was truly inspired. Check the trailer for some brief examples.

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Michael Elson : Moving Picture Company
Another super accent, this time from London, Michael walked us through a range of films that MPC had worked on through the year.

Michael showed us some sneak footage of 10,000 BC and the mammoths that needed a heap of work and proprietry systems for fur etc (each has 1 million hairs and there are herds of them). I liked that they CG'ed out all the grass from the camera shots and replaced it with CG grass instead (with the exception of a small patch around the live action humans).

Elizabeth the Golden Age was done much faster and with a much lower budget. They modelled the ships in Maya and compositied them onto shots with all the water effects and a host of other layers. They used specific simulation tools to handle sails and ropes for which they had so many. I liked his comment from the director who was asking them to create "operatic realism"

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix they isued baked in matt paintings into environments and composites to save time. They prevised sequences like the fireworks to allow them to have computer controlled lighting rigs during filming to get the coloured lights on their actors. He broke down a handful of the shots and the effects work required in bits like the duel betwix'd Voldemort and Dumbledore. They are already working on the next HP movie - cool.

Fred Clause got a look in for all those elves - lots of CGed and mocaped ones to be seen, plus more projected matt paintings.

Sunshine was what Michael was most proud of, with its 750 CG/Effects shots and being a UK film. The spacecraft model had a staggering 2GB of geometry data - that is insane in so many ways. They had to write up special ways to handle that data size and Maya cant do it. He showed us plenty of examples of the lighting issues they had to work through with the extreme lighting conditions.
There was coverage of DI (Digital Intermediate) Grading for a film like this.

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Duncan Brinsmead : AutoDesk
Showing off the fun and games of ncloth and the other simulation bits of Maya is always entertaining. Seeing Duncan do it added some depth as we got to see some stunning real-time examples both as video and live in Maya. Some of the coolest bits were his slinky, phone cord, book, flag, shrink wrap, parachute and finally his paper planes.
Duncan has all this stuff on his blog over at AutoDesk - plenty to inspire and I will definately have to check it all out in more detail soon!!

[some images from the tutes on Duncan's blog]

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Lindsay Adams : Animal Logic
Lindsay spent his hour giving us a close look at the work Animal Logic did to create the look of 300 in all its glory. Seeing the energy they put into making it all so stylised and deliberately non-realistic was great. How they used their blood references, created new skies to create things - particularly 'the Frank shots' was revealing. This film warraned some more discussion on colour grading and how they 'half crushed' things to get closer to the finished look, while also leaving enough room for the final grade.
Lindsay's crew 'temped' up 150 shots in 5 weeks to get a rough (but still very good) comp blocking done to feed that back into the full creation process. They used Shake for their comp needs and mentioned quite often the need to share with other vendors on the project.

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Dominique Pouliquen : REALVIZ
A French accent this time as we saw the quite stunning work that RealViz is allowing now by automating multiple camera matches and then video motion capture.
The software must be expensive, but things like the nokia tattoo advert show what can be done with much reduced effort.

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Greg Yepes & Phil Barrenger : Rising Sun Pictures
Bringing some fun to things were Greg and Phil from RSP who talked through the creation of the CG work for The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (I looked at this on Day275). Each shot went through the storyboards, reference, tests, build and then composite phases.
They showed us the footage they used as reference for the effect on the water sign, it is on Youtube as well featuring NASA and their bubbles (check the end).

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I noted that most of the presenters had Mac hardware (laptops to be precise). There were 4 presenters on Mac and 2 on Windows laptops (one xp and one Vista). That is enough for today - more tomorrow!!


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Back into WoW
I also couldnt help myself when I got back, and had a little venture into WoW. I havent done this for ages and just pottered around with new characters trying to get a feel for how much (if any) creative freedome the game allows to actually roleplay something. I am not sure - finding a character that will hold seems hard.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Day311 AEAF Preview and back with Lara

Australian Effects and Animation Festival
I am off to the AEAF as part of the Digital Media Festival starting tomorrow. Though I was disappointed that Scott Benza from ILM and Transformers wont be speaking, we now have Richard Frances-Moore from Weta Digital who should be great to hear as well.

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Back with Lara
Having completed HL2-EP2 I am back in Lara's world today - I am making up for my gaming drought for sure. I am not really that big a fan of this rather console-like-platformer logic of replaying puzzles over and over again. I did use the walkthrough at Tomb Raider Chronicles to help me with the backwards jump in the Damocles Room. I try very hard not to use such things - the point of the game is to solve the puzzles after all.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Day310 Machinima and more HLing

Machinima
After seeing a review for Machinima for Dummies on the Renderosity site by Ricky Grove, I grabbed a copy from the Konokuniya bookshop at the Hilton in the City. They still have 20% off computer books - for which they have a huge range - it's a bargain.

I have read upto PartII already and am enjoying the attitude that Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram bring to the work. They show their almost rebellious Machinima-makers-view of things to whatever is being covered. The part of the book I am in now is covering cinematic story-telling priciples - with some tie-backs to how they apply to Machinima as well. So far it is informative and enjoyable - more to come as I zip through it in coming days.

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From their website they link to some inspired work out there including that by Baron Soosden like his work on I'm So Sick and others - very clever indeed. I will get around to watching each of the vids on his site as I manage to stream each of them down (they take a while).

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One interesting thing is that Machinima is firmly planted in the Windows world because that is where the majority of the game engines can be found. I find this interesting given the Mac's ties to the creative arts.

When I get myself a new computer game, I am deciding to invest a serious chunk of time and energy into it. For this reason there are a vast number of games that never get my attention for time constraints as much as the cost. Machinima is a small bite of entertainment that does not require or demand any great investment - like any movie or short. Thus I (and others) can afford to be far more speculative and experimental in their choices of films etc than their gaming. This would seem to allow a far greater opportunity for exposure in the Machinima field than that of Modding.

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HL2 EP2 Conclusion
Here I was, having a ball blowing up striders and feeling quite the hero, when the end of EP2 pounced upon me - and it was an emotional one too!! I am still a little shocked at that...
We will now have to wait 'patiently' for Ep3 to finish this story arc for us, if this episode is anything to go by, it will be quite a ride. Even though Ep2 was longer than Ep1 - I still thought it was a bit too short, maybe that is just because I want more. There werent as many physics pieces as I hoped either, it is this real-worldness that I love in the series.

It is starting to annoy me that I have no emotion in the game. I would dearly like to be able to put my guns down when I am inside the bases. I would like to be able to emote a cheer or nod my head etc and be able to see my body when I look down or my hands on the steering wheel etc... These things for me are the areas where HL2 are falling short of higher levels of immersion and perfection for me.


[Just a few screenshots from my journey through EP2 - resized for blogging, but still nice]