Tag Archives: cross platform games

Vendetta Online celebrates 10-year anniversary!

Independent game developer Guild Software, Inc is pleased to announce the ten-year anniversary of the public debut of their space-based MMORPG “Vendetta Online”. A decade ago the initial userbase for the title was ushered in thanks to coverage from Penny Arcade and Inside Mac Games. Delivering a mix of “twitch” space combat with the backdrop of a massive, persistent galaxy, even a decade later “Vendetta Online” continues to occupy a unique niche within the family of MMORPGs.

Trine 2: Exklusive technical interview – great art design meets amazing lighting

Although Trine 2 hit the market in last December, PC Games Hardware decided to talk to Frozenbyte, the Finnish developers of this amazing game. Juha Hiekkamäki, Senior Graphics Programmer, shared a lot of exclusive information with us about the technical capabilities of Trine 2.

Three years ago, Frozenbyte released its amazing first Trine: A platformer with great visuals and a lot of physic puzzles combined with a fantastic soundtrack created by Ari Pulkkinen (well know for Angry Birds). By controlling a knight, a thief and a wizard the player has to combine all their abilities like a burning sword, a bow, and conjuring ramps or chests. For example you have to pour water onto the roots of plants which grow up and in the next moment you fight against some goblins or escape them by reaching a higher stage. In last December the successor Trine 2 hit the shelves within a lot of positive reviews. Just lately we had the opportunity to talk to Juha Hiekkamäki, Senior Graphics Programmer at Frozenbyte.

PCGH: Juha, we have no idea what engine Trine 2 is using – so can you please name it and tell us the API? As far as we know Trine 2 is a cross platform title and utilizes DX9, is that the reason why it does not utilize DX10 or DX11?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: Trine 2 uses our internal engine and we haven’t really given it any name. For graphics API we use D3D9 (and OpenGL on the Mac and Linux). We don’t support DX10/DX11 because currently we don’t really need them feature-wise. Also, we still have players using Windows XP and upgrading to a newer API would only cost us sales and coding effort for very little benefit. So instead we have focused on getting the most out of DX9 🙂

PCGH: If your engine is build in house and no licensed product, what is the reason for that?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: Modifying an in house engine to suit your needs is always easier, especially as all of the programmers have been involved on some level in creating the engine, and generally speaking everything is much more straightforward, there’s no extra features that would just end up being in the way.

On the other hand, with an inhouse engine it is harder to provide easy-to-use tools for the artists and level designers. That’s always a challenge and something that needs to be well-planned, because obviously some tools must always exist very early in each project.

One reason for not using any commercial engine is also the simple fact that paying license fees can quickly add up. Trine 2 supports the major platforms – Windows, Mac, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Linux also in the future, so there’s a big financial aspect also. In a way using an inhouse engine gives us a certain amount of freedom and independence, and we like that. Or someone else could say that we’re just stubborn Finns …

PCGH: We assume your engine features a Deferred Renderer, could you confirm this and could you please list some advanced rendering techniques you are using?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: Our rendering is indeed based on deferred rendering, and our typical scene has somewhere between 50 and 100 dynamic lights visible. Compared to some AAA games our feature list is obviously smaller. We are using Depth of Field, screen space reflections, wrap lights (approximation of translucency), bloom and color corrections.We also support native stereoscopic rendering on PC.

PCGH: The lighting and art design of Trine 2 is just amazing – so what is your secret?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: Our renderer allows artists to use a lot of dynamic lights for each frame. We also try to work together and add some features that would benefit the art. Beyond that, the secret is just our talented art team and the art direction they’ve chosen 🙂

PCGH: You are using Nvidia’s PhysX middleware for physics, do you already utilize SDK 3.x? If not, what version is used in Trine 2 and have you integrated any APEX modules? What is your option about GPU accelerated physics?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: We are using 2.8.x version of PhysX and no additional modules. We decided to stick to the 2.8.x because we’ve been working with it for a long time and we know it very well, so we didn’t want to switch to the just-released 3.0 version at the end of the development cycle.

For Trine 2, it makes very little sense to use GPU acceleration for physics, because with every PC configuration our graphics are heavily GPU limited. CPU is mostly idle, so in our case it’s ideal to run physics on the CPU.

PCGH: Trine 2 uses FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing) so which version do you implement? Did you rework any parts of the FXAA code maybe improve sharpness, saturation or contrast?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: We are using FXAA 3.9, we only changed some values to reduce the blurring effect very slightly. On PC, low graphics settings use console version of FXAA while Medium and above uses high quality default implementation (with gamma correction).

PCGH: One of the greatest features is Supersampling-Anti-Aliasing – in case it scales down a higher render resolution to native resolution, right? Did you integrate SSAA because traditional Multisample-AA is quite difficult with deferred rendering? If we apply SSAA and FXAA in which step will FXAA be rendered – before or after image downscaling?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: Yes, our super sampling will render the frame in higher resolution and then scale it down to actual output resolution. It was implemented because Multisample-AA is not possible with deferred rendering using D3D9. With D3D10/11 it would be possible to use multisampling to generate G-buffers but in any case lighting would still have to be supersampled. Full supersampling will also help fixing shader aliasing, but it is not very efficient with higher sample amounts.

When combining FXAA and SSAA, we first render the supersampled image, apply FXAA and finally do a gamma-correct scaling down to target resolution. For example for 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution:

2xSSAA+FXAA will render 2550 x 1430 image, apply FXAA and scale it back to 1920×1080.
3xSSAA+FXAA will render 3180 x 1790 image, apply FXAA and scale it back to 1920×1080.
4xSSAA+FXAA will render 3840 x 2160 image, apply FXAA and scale it back to 1920×1080.

PCGH: What is about multicore rendering and worker job system? Does Trine 2 benefit from more than two CPU cores?

Juha Hiekkamäki, Frozenbyte: We don’t have a real worker/task system in the engine. However, our middleware (PhysX, Wwise, Bink) can use more than 2 cores.

Devs respond to Google PlayN

Google offers: one game, one code-base, many platforms

Google has announced PlayN, which it describes as an “open-source cross-platform abstraction layer that uses the GWT compiler to take one code base written in Java and compile it into targets that run it as HTML5, Flash, Java, or as a native Android application”. The idea is to simplify and economise games development, which Google helpfully reduces to the snappy soundbite: “One game, one code-base, many platforms”.

Creative Flash developer Iain Lobb told us that the general idea is sound, due to the divergence of different platforms and the need to target them all without rebuilding an application in many different languages. He noted that Adobe AIR, Unity3D and some others are trying to solve the same problem, and PlayN’s choice of Java is an “okay choice of language, which is quite widely known, and easy to learn”.

But Lobb had some concerns: “I notice it wants you to use Git, Eclipse, Maven and Ant, a complicated stack of technologies that may put off casual developers.” Lobb is also troubled that PlayN doesn’t directly target iOS (“That’s losing the biggest mobile market already”) and he maintains that Flash developers should stick to ActionScript, to be able to access all Flash’s existing libraries like TweenMax. “In fact you could make the argument that for any of the platforms it targets, you’re going to lose platform-specific features,” he added.

Native vs the web

Rob Hawkes, a technical evangelist at Mozilla, also has concerns with PlayN, “although I’m not surprised Google is taking this role, since it fits in with their work on the GTW compiler and their Android platform”. He wonders, though, who PlayN is aimed at and is irked that Google didn’t concentrate on open web technologies. “I like the idea of writing code once for multiple platforms, but this is exactly why making games with HTML5 and JavaScript is so beneficial,” he said. “PlayN is good for easily porting game code to various native environments, but that doesn’t mean that I believe a solution like this is necessarily the right one in the long term.”

Hawkes believes HTML5 and JavaScript should be championed as the solution for getting a game on multiple devices without rewriting code, and that shortcomings of this approach are fast disappearing. “In the meantime, platforms like Phonegap help provide the best of both worlds: HTML5 and JavaScript code, with the benefit of being portable to multiple native platforms and using the features of those native environments.” He added that he’d like to see Google pushing HTML5 as a solution to these problems, and wonders if PlayN is “a stop-gap until HTML5 matures as a platform for games”.

As for PlayN’s impact on gaming, Hawkes told us it won’t hurt the industry and that it could be handy for developers who want to target the devices PlayN supports. “But if HTML5 is already good enough for your game, using something like PlayN will overcomplicate matters,” he warned. “What I mean by that is you would be writing code in Java and porting it to HTML5, rather than just writing it in HTML5 the first time. Another way I can see this being detrimental is that it’s giving the impression that it’s okay to pander to closed and native environments instead of targeting and improving open environments like HTML5.”

Top-Quality Open Source Game 0 A.D. Close to Completion

The open source channel is known for a lot of things, but breathtaking games isn’t one of them. That may change soon, though, thanks to the people behind the open source game 0 A.D., which in its latest iteration brings gorgeous and elegant gaming to the free software world — and it’s still in alpha. Read on for a look at the amazing things these volunteer programmers have accomplished in recent months, and what they mean for the open source channel as a whole.

0 A.D., the open source RTS game for Windows, Linux and OS X, has been a long time in the making — more than a decade, in fact. But even when I first covered it two years ago, I knew it was something special. As perhaps the only open source game with a truly professional agenda, it stood out in an ecosystem where few development teams have the patience to undertake such a major project with the intent of giving away the final product for free. As a result, the game exhibited a potential to reshape parts of the open source channel by proving top-quality games are not something commercial developers alone are capable of creating.

New Alpha Release

If 0 A.D. was impressive two years ago, it’s now unquestionably stunning in its current form. Alpha 7 of the game, codenamed Geronium, was released the weekend of Sept. 17, 2011, bringing with it a host of enhancements including a new “civilization,” even more incredible artwork and music and sound that could easily hold their own against the work of any commercial game development house.

Here’s a look at the game in action on Ubuntu 11.04:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6f8pf_i0Yk&w=480&h=360]

That screencast comes courtesy of my i3 processor and Sandy Bridge graphics card, which is to say the game runs perfectly smoothly even on budget hardware.

The audio features, which I couldn’t embed into the screencast for want of an audio framework on Ubuntu that actually works, can be sampled here. They’re worth a listen.

Even without sound, however, the game’s maturity and sophistication are clear. This is truly professional quality work, by open source volunteers. It has the potential to become a raving success story of the open source world on the order of Firefox and Open/LibreOffice, the two great poster children of the open source movement.

The Final Stretch

0 A.D. is almost ready for primetime. But its development team has issued a call for contributions to help turn the final corner:

We are seeking contributors in programming, art, sound, web design, taking YouTube videos and more. These roles on the 0 A.D. development team are great if you want to brush up on your skills and update your portfolio, if you’re seeking a project for school with real-life applications, or if you care about the cause of free culture and software and are willing to work pro bono with a group of dedicated volunteers from all over the world.

Interested? Please register on our forums and start a new topic introducing yourself in the applications and contributions forum following these instructions.

After a long wait, it looks like 0 A.D. in playable form is just about here. When it finally arrives, I just may have to forgo all of my responsibilities and pretend I’m 14 years old again with nothing stopping me from playing RTS games all day long.

How online gamers helped UW researchers solve AIDS mystery

Greg Lamm on Saturday, September 17, 2011

University of Washington researchers have teamed up with gamers to make a breakthrough in AIDS research that could unlock new drug treatments.

The game at the center of the breakthrough is Foldit, an online game that lets players collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules. Playing Foldit, gamers helped researchers solve a problem that has stumped them for more than a decade: How to configurate the structure of a retrovirus enzyme related to AIDS.

UW researchers say this is the first time they are aware that researchers have tapped into the expertise of games to solver a long-standing scientific problem.

While the problem had befuddled researchers for years, it took gamers only a few days to solve it. The results suggest that humans and computer models can learn from each other in real-time.

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” said Seth Cooper, of the UW Department of Computing Science and Engineering, who is a co-creator of Foldit. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.”

Solving the structure of the retrovirus enzyme is a big leap forward, said researchers, because the enzyme is in a class called retroviral proteases that plays a critical role in how the AIDS virus matures and multiplies. Now that researchers know what the enzyme looks like, there is hope that it will speed up the development of anti-AIDS drubs that can block the enzymes.

“These features provide exciting opportunities for the design of retroviral drugs, including AIDS drugs,” wrote the authors of a paper appearing Sunday in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Reseachers say figuring out the virus enzyme structure, “indicates the power of online computer games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems.”

And researchers have gamers — who are listed as co-authors of the paper — to thank for their breakthrough.

“We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed,” Firas Khatib of the University of Washington Department of Biochemistry, said in a statement. Khatib is a researcher in the protein structure lab of UW biochemistry researcher David Baker.

Fold-it was created by computer scientists at the University of Washington Center for Game Science, working with the Baker Laboratory.

“The focus of the UW Center for Game Sciences,” Zoran Popovic, associate professor of computer science and engineering, said in a statement. “Is to solve hard problems in science and education that currently cannot be solved by either people or computers alone.”

UW says the the online protein folding game drew in thousands of avid players from around the world:

They taps into their 3-D spatial abilities to rotate chains of amino acids in cyberspace. New players start at the basic level, “One Small Clash,” proceed to “Swing it Around” and step ahead until reaching “Rubber Band Reversal.”

Direct manipulation tools, as well as assistance from a computer program called Rosetta, encourage participants to configure graphics into a workable protein model. Teams send in their answers, and UW researchers constantly improve the design of the game and its puzzles by analyzing the players’ problem-solving strategies.

Figuring out the shape and misshape of proteins contributes to research on causes of and cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, immune deficiencies and a host of other disorders, as well as to environmental work on biofuels.

Games like Foldit are evolving. To piece together the retrovirus enzyme structure, Cooper said, gamers used a new Alignment Tool for the first time to copy parts of know molecules and test their fit in an incomplete model.

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