Monthly Archives: March 2010

Nintendo 3DS concept design

Nintendo recently announced that their new handheld (currently dubbed the 3DS) will be released sometime over the next 12 months.

Details are sketchy at the moment, but it looks like it will:

  • Be backwards compatible with DS and DSi game titles.
  • Feature a screen that produces 3D imagery without requiring special glasses.
  • Include orientation and motion sensors, and vibration feedback.
  • Feature a special 3D joystick.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the design ideas coming out of this thread on NeoGAF, but I’m not entirely bought off on any particular design (yet). As is my want, I’ve been playing around with different concept designs.

My first idea was based around the following possibilities:

  • A vertical tablet has appeal to a wide audience (ebooks, crosswords, etc.).
  • Dual cameras could be used for 3D photography/video with the 3D screen.
  • Nintendo may focus on cameras, motion, and touch over “legacy” controls.
  • “Classic” controls should be available for the traditional gaming audience.
  • 16:9 is the new 4:3 (let’s hope it’s 720p!)

Here’s the current mock-up (click image for larger version):

It’s pretty rough, and I had a few different ideas while working on it, so look out for something new over the next few days. ;)

Update: Minor fixes (mostly lightness).

Cat messages

Perhaps the greatest feature of modern communications technology is the way in which it lets humankind share its universal love for cats. Surely I Can Has Cheezburger and Cats the Look like Hitler represent the pinnacle of human achievement in terms of utilisation of technology for the benefit of humanity. Throw in keyboard cat, yodeling cats, ninja cat, box cat, omg cat, and trololo cat for good measure (check out the videos if you haven’t yet seen them!)

On a related note, I’ve found that MMS messaging greatly enhances the experience of keeping cats. Being a constant source of fascination and entertainment, cat antics need to be shared – and with a camera phone handy, it’s just a click (and predictive text input) away.

Shortly after getting Mao I struck upon the idea of sending Heidi SMS messages supposedly from Mao (who purported to have stolen my phone). This progressed to MMS messages documenting her various adventures (“I’m in yer sink, doin yer dishus”) and the entire concept expanded to both cats when we got Bruce (who is decidedly less articulate than Mao when text messaging).

When Minh was cat-sitting the cats, she sent us frequent photos of their adventures from their perspective. Always cute and humorous (obviously), these messages sometimes alluded to implicit questions (eg. “I hav a smelly poo problem” implies “Is that normal?”).

Anyhow, it’s a fun aspect of my life that not many people know about and I wanted to document it somewhere. Heidi and I really appreciated getting photo updates from the cats while they were away from us, and we try to send Minh photos now that they are away from her!

Here’s the latest message (send today):

I saw something moving in the bushes…

Omg! Wat iz it!?

Cheesy, but fun times! :D

Heavy Rain (amazing, but buggy)

I finished playing Heavy Rain a week or so ago. It’s a gorgeous game… let down by technical issues (particularly if you have an older Playstation 3 apparently).

(Note: The images below are of loading screens in the game. I took these photos with my mobile phone.)

It is absolutely a landmark game. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it feels like a contemporary interpretation of classic adventure games (in particular, it reminds me of Westwood Studio’s Blade Runner game from 1997). It eschews recent game design dogma of emergent gameplay in favour of a highly scripted experience in which the player is as much a detached witness as an engaged participant.

One of Heavy Rain’s greatest achievements is that rather than forcing the player to control the minute details of what a player-avatar does, it charges the player with controlling how the story unfolds. Although there are some elements of fine motor skills (mostly reaction time), control is generally restricted to scene exploration and event flow. When combined with high-quality cinematic presentation, this makes the game quite accessible and focuses the player on the story.

Something that really stood out to me was that Heavy Rain doesn’t ask the player to make many concessions. Most games (particularly those from classic game houses such as Nintendo and Sega) tend to expect that the player will just accept certain limitations as inherit to videogames. For example, characters might be fully animated in cut-scenes but then have fairly limited animations and no voice acting (text balloons only) during gameplay. This doesn’t really stand out to those well-versed in the grammar of videogames, but it can be incredibly jarring for non-gamers when previously lively characters turn into zombies.

Heavy Rain is part of a new wave of games (including Mass Effect) from contemporary studios (including Bioware) that clearly aim to target a mass market audience without compromise. The fact that they have been relatively successful in this goal is a tribute to both the studios’ production values and the power of current generation consoles. However, it’s still early days in this bold new world of truly mainstream games and quality, design, and technical issues still remain; You still need to be a fan in order to overlook limitations of the medium.

Simply because it aims so high (and generally delivers in abundance), it’s easy to criticise Heavy Rain for characteristics that you might easily overlook in other games: The character movement animation is fairly wooden (compared to the quality of the models and scripted animations); Camera-relative movement seems ill-suited to a game that has such dynamic camera changes (although movement is easier if you just keep moving forwards using R2 and only change direction when required); A number of nude scenes feel fairly forced (possibly exploitative if there were real actors); And the voice acting isn’t uniformly film quality (although miles ahead of offerings from almost all traditional studios!)

All of these shortcomings really didn’t matter to me, because the game still hit the mark. I made some concessions in order to really enjoy it, but less than any other game I have played since Grim Fandango. It is definitely a landmark title that any (self-styled) game critic or fan should aim to play.

And now for the “but”. The game is great when it works, but the shipped retail version is buggy as hell. Frankly, I am astounded that it passed QA. My initial experience with it went something like this:

  • Put game into Playstation 3, wait for ages while it update the Playstation 3 bios and installs to the HDD.
  • It plays alright until Ethan enters the bathroom at which point overt rendering problems make it look like he some sort of geometric skin condition.
  • Continue playing hoping that it was a temporary isolated graphical problem.
  • Experience various problems with character models not updating (the kid Ethan looking for is standing right in front of him and nothing is happening).
  • A few scenes later and the screen goes black while continuous loud static bursts out of the speakers.
  • Eventually (gingerly) turn off the Playstation 3. When I turn it back on it no longer outputs a video signal.
  • Disconnect and reconnect everything forcing the Playstation 3 into recovery mode (which you’re probably not meant to know about).
  • Rebuild the Playstation 3 game database, restore the file system, and reinstall the latest bios.
  • Delete Heavy Rain game and save data and then setup internet access in order to download and apply the latest patch.

From that point on it worked a lot better, but there were a number of issues still remained. Most notable were audio drop-outs and points in which commands stuck around after they were meant to expire. For the entire last level any time I pressed the “X” key, one of the characters would yell something out… even during cut-scenes… sigh.

I’m disappointed that Quantic Dream were so uncompromising on their vision and content production values, yet obviously compromised basic technical quality. I suppose that this is one aspect of game development that is better addressed by old school studios (who couldn’t release patches for their offline, cartridge-based systems).

Still I wouldn’t overlook Heavy Rain due to technical problems (even though it put my Playstation 3 into a coma). Just be sure to download the latest patch… or maybe wait for the “Platinum” edition.

Conclusion: Recommended… ish.

Japanese dinner followup

I was so happy with dinner the other day. I almost cried. I’m making some notes here so that I can quietly reminisce at a later date… and also so that I can easily recreate these dishes.

The braised pork belly turned out better than I ever dared to dream. I took some photos with my mobile phone while it was cooking (but I neglected to take any when it was on the dining room table).

I first browned the meat and covered it in caramelised sugar:

Then I added water, a length of leek, a knob of ginger, a star anise, cooking sake, and soy sauce:

Three hours later and it looked (and smelled) delectable:

Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of any other dishes (which were cooked later in the evening; I was much more concerned with eating at that stage). Although I do have a (bad) photo of the menu/guide I put together for the meal:

Finally, a list of recipe changes compared to my original post:

  • Buta no Kakuni: Pretty much exactly as described over at Just Hungry, but I’d remove the meat while caramelising the sugar and then add a little more water.
  • Nasu Dengaku: I went with a simpler recipe which was very close to what I wanted, but with a little too much sugar. Next time I’d try making the paste from equal parts miso, mirin, sake, and sugar. I’d also slice the eggplant a little thinner so that it cooks through evenly.
  • Ginger salad dressing: I’ll go easy on the sesame oil next time. It has a pretty overpowering flavour.

Good times. :D

Japanese dinner (recipes)

Heidi bought some eggplant and pork belly the other day (I love you Heidi) and I’ve been looking forward to cooking up some Buta no Kakuni and Nasu Dengaku. We penned it in for dinner tomorrow and the wait has been excruciating.

Just look at what I’m waiting for (image from Just Hungry):

I searched for recipes online (I love you Internet) and for the last fews days I’ve had a few browser tabs open – taunting me with their succulent imagery while I wait for our Wednesday dinner date with friends.

We put together a menu for the evening, based on our favourite foods and constrained by what we’ve been able to find here in Albany:

I’m not sure if it’s de rigeur, but chances are that I’m going to plaster this stuff (or at least one bite) with hot English mustard. It just feels like the right thing to do.

Places to stay in Singapore

Anyone have recommendations for places to stay in Singapore?

Heidi and I will most likely be there for a few days in May (on our way back from Thailand). Looking for nice but not too fancy (what’s that? 3-4 stars) in a good location (walking distance or good access to public transport).

In related news… any recommendations for Beijing? (I might be there in June)

Update: I’m all caught up on Singaporean history thanks to this:

Caricature

I’m working on product branding that will require a series of emotional caricatures.

To be honest, I’ve never really been very good at caricature. I find it difficult to capture all the subtle nuances of the subject without just adding a lot of detail. So my drawings end up looking alright… but nothing like the people I’m trying to capture.

Fortunately, my work next week mostly just requires stylised cartoon imagery. So it doesn’t really demand that the image is identifiable as a specific person. Also, it’s all going to be lightly stylised only (no heavy caricatures) meaning that it’s a little more like stuff I’m a bit better at. :D

Anyhow, here are some practise sketches that I did yesterday and today.

It’s me!… kinda:

I emphasised the wrong visual cues in this one: my face isn’t really super thin, and my hair is big in a different way. It’s also the wrong sort of smile (“huh?” rather than “hey”). Gah… moving on… here’s the work-in-progress if anyone is interested. I find it easiest to sketch different colours for different surfaces (eg. hair) and then break it out into layers later on:

After deciding that I’m probably too close to me to be objective in drawing myself, I went through some old photos looking for other interesting faces. I decided upon this photo of Tone doing the “Blue Steel” look (from Zoolander) at iParty 2.0. I tried for fewer, cleaner lines, and basic blocky shading:

Then I added in some colour:

Better I think… but I’m still not really feeling the emotion. I can probably add some spin lines or other iconographic elements in the background, but I want to get as much as I can from just the main figure…

I guess that I’ll just have to keep practising! ;)

m4s0n501

Gym

Heidi and I signed up for six month memberships down at the Albany Leisure and Aquatic Centre (our nearest sports centre).

We went to a few classes together including KiMAX by RADICAL FITNESS. I hadn’t been to gym classes before, so it was pretty interesting. Check out this video to get an idea of what I’m talking about:

It’s garish in the same way that almost all sports equipment (especially running shoes and cycling wear) is garish, but it’s also functional. I was pretty tired at the end and a little sore the next day.

I finally had my fitness appraisal just yesterday (since moving to Albany, I seem to spend a lot of time back in Perth) and I’ll receive my personalised fitness regime next Monday.

I mentioned that I don’t want to bulk up, so Terri (fitness instructor) is putting together something with a lot of aerobic “body weight” training – which means that I won’t really be using much of the equipment – which makes me wonder why I’m going to a gym.

Anyhow, I noted rock climbing and parkour (or in my particular case, very amateur gymnastics) as things that I would like to get better at. I didn’t mention anything about weight loss since she was pretty proactive in saying that it’s not required (I’m on around 15% body fat apparently).

I also didn’t mention the term “totally ripped”… maybe I should have… :P