Thursday, 6 December 2012

Microsoft Surface Love Hate

OK, I have been playing on and off with one of the new Microsoft Surface RT tabletty laptopy doodads for a week or so and have been having a very mixed experience.

When I ordered the machine there were only black keyboards, so I have the standard machine with the quite clever latch on keyboard that protects the screen very nicely and works as a keyboard quite well while lending a softer more tactile feel to the device. I still would have liked a funky coloured keyboard though.
Anyhow, the hardware itself is nice, with the much trumpeted kick stand and a small array of ports including a USB. One of the key benefits here is that we have Windows 8 running on the tablet - yes only the RT version in this case which does impose a suite of limitations (see later), but it is here and running. I still applaud Microsoft for trying to unite our devices in this way, but having the RT version feels limited. We get a preview version of office 2013 (well parts of it) which means we can run actual Word and Excel.
So there are positives and some of the metro apps are starting to look good.

[Promo Surface RT image via the Microsoft site]

OK, time to burn my way through a raft of frustrations then.

SPEED
The ARM processor in the RT version of the Surface just isnt up to the task of giving me the Win 8 functionality needed. My basic notes doc which for this year was at 50,000 words is barely useable and even if I hack off 3/4 of it it still isnt a nice experience.

APPS
Yes, the whole point of the RT version is to hold us to the metro Win8 apps - that may be ok down the track, but right now that means no dropbox, Lync, Outlook and a score of other helpful things that I have running nicely enough on my HP 2760p.
The apps we do get are a little flat in many places as well - the MAIL app has some nice things but is a far cry from Outlook or the GMail interfaces. The onsceen keyboard is nice - but gets in the way of some actions such as entering a WiFi password...

OTHER
Some things feel very 'version 1'. The rotation sensor is very sensitive and I keep needing to re-orient the discplay. Sometimes the brightness is way too low or it takes too long to sense that a change is needed. I fail to find settings for things much of the time - configs and interfaces are different for each metro app and system prefs are harder to navigate through than ever (maybe I should just be searching).
The dual Metro/Desktop interface thing is still awkward - at least app switching should ignore this differentiation as that would help unify the experience. Why would I switch to Desktop to get to an application running there?

Soooo, here we have a device with plenty of potential but lots of issues for now, I am really hoping the PRO version is exactly what we all really want - alas it is still 'coming soon'. The real selling point of Win8 on a tablet is the application richness of Windows (including Office, Adobe, Autodesk etc) so the RT Surface fails to claim that territory - bring on the PRO. I do like the picture unlock - that is a nice addition and as the metro apps mature my start screen is looking more and more interesting. I will keep going with this baby for a while yet though, see if I can find workarounds for the speed and application holes.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Stunning CryEngine3 and Crysis 3

One thing that the Crytek engine is famous for is the visual fidelity that it can muster is gorgeous real-time. While mortals may struggle to develop assets of the quality on display in the new tech demos for CryEngine 3 and the early 2013 Crysis 3 - the Crytek wizards have crafted some simply remarkable visuals - and it is all in realtime dont forget.

[CryEngine 3 promo screengrab via the official site]

First up the Crysis 3: Powered by CryEngine 3 Tech Demo where we see the sheer splendour that can come  pouring forth from the CryEngine. The environment is richer, denser, more detailed and inviting than ever before and the inhabitants integrate with that environment and just look remarkable all on their own.
Add to this some of the other details shown off in the following videos and you can see why we love this engine.



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Unity 4 and Serious Games

Yep, Unity 4 has arrived and comes armed with "a new animation system, graphics, special effects and performance optimizations" plus more. See the full list of New Features for all and sundry which includes all those nice visual enhancements.


This video shows off the new animation systems powerful use of Blend Trees, State Machines, IK and more.


Plus here is a little snapshot of the DirectX 11 features in the new version.


Serious Games

Apart from all the nice games that Unity can power, the Unity Serious Games Reel shows off how the engine can help with a whole range of more serious endeavours. While I might have been thinking real games a fair bit recently, I do like the idea of bringing these technologies to more and more places.

There isnt an embeddable version of this video yet - so just FOLLOW THE LINK to see the fun!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Coop Games and Card Creation

I have gone on something of a spree so our gaming groups can try out a suite of coop games. Apart from the Moths and Butterfly concept I have been working through - I took quite a few tangents involving drunken dwarves, ninja dancers, golems, elementals and even zany mutations. I will scan in and post up lotsa the concept sketches for these , even if the game mechanics notes arent ready.
Apart from Castle Ravenloft that is already hitting the table, we now have Descent 2E, Defenders of the Realm, Elders Sign plus Mice & Mystics - all of which I am sure will be stunning!
One thing not on the list yet is Zombicide, I think zombie AI works very well as the common enemy as they arent very smart and are quite predictable (not alot of scheming goes on in a zombie mind)

Anyhow, here is a neat little video showing one way to create a game card - with a 3D framework that is textured and then bringing in the 2D art and layering effects. This sets the bar pretty high.