The Blog of Ryan Foss

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Archive for May, 2008

360 Hoy!


I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I finally broke down… I own a 360 now and GTAIV! Look at me, I’m out bowling on a date. What game is this again?

W00t!

This is Hard


Big John Games is the developer and Destineer is the distributor of a couple Nintendo DS games, both these companies are MN local. Big John Games seems like a group of people I’d like to support, so I bought Plushee’s for my 9 yr. old niece and Spitfire Heroes for myself.

My niece was very excited about Plushees. She played some and was very positive about it, picking out a couple animals as pets or whatever. I didn’t get much chance to see it in action, other than her getting to level nine of Whack-A-Troll. Point is she liked it.

As for Spitfire Heroes, that game is hard! I decided to try it on Veteran, the medium difficulty. I finally got to mission 4, and my ass got handed to me again and again so I started over on very easy and breezed through the first 3 missions. The fourth was trouble again, but I kicked serious ass and beat it. All that struggle taught me a thing or two about the game. I beat it on the very easy setting. The boat/destroyer mission was the toughest since there’s bullets coming in from everywhere. Luckily the plane you fly is a tank with wings!

I’m Big in Minnesota

When I arrived at work late today, 9:30 am, I was greeted by my co-worker Chris. He had a strange grin and a WTF look. I was feeling sorta sheepish since I was so late. Been having a hard time sleeping lately since I’ve been up playing Final Fantasy XII. (Makes me think of the drinking problem joke in Airplane.) Anyway, Chris says he has to show me something and he pulls out Minnesota Monthly magazine.
Here’s a better image from the Solstice Film Festival slide show. That’s me second from the left.
Bill’s Big Pumpkins red carpet at the June 2007 Solstice Film Festival at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul. Pictured right to left: Gail Foss, Ryan Foss, Stephanie Nagel, Bill Nagel

Team Woes at DeVry Online

My team for my GSP 240 Practical Game Design class was a lemon. It really sucked. Luckily there was one person who really helped finish our assignments, and other helped a little. It was still tough because we had 2.5 people doing 6 peoples work.

I wrote the prof as asked him what the deal was, if the team’s non-functioning members had dropped out or what. His response was good, that he noticed we were having problems. Then he took our group and pushed us into other groups, breaking up the me and the other guy that started working well together. This makes sense of course, since he divided the groups functioning members up. Still sucks though.

Hail to the Ice From the Sky




Don’t need to say much here. We had a storm. Biggest hail I’ve ever seen.

Trouble in Polygon Optimization Town

Apparently my Inventions and Great Ideas post stirred some mud. I’ve gotten a few comments and some e-mails. E-mails from people conveying their experiences and also one from an engineer at Right Hemisphere, with a marketing director’s e-mail as a CC no less. Hmm…? Turns out some competitor to Right Hemisphere read into my post a little to deeply and wrote a blog post of their own, claiming that I allege my ideas were “stolen”. This isn’t true. The point of my post wasn’t to scream foul or claim theft, it was that I learned a valuable lesson, a lesson regarding my “ideas”. I freely gave my idea, a single idea not ideas as the blog suggests, to an engineer at Right Hemisphere and they listened. Is that so bad? No, in fact its good business. And when they came back, they pitched the idea back at me because of my unique problem and its unique solution. The point I was trying to make was that I hadn’t thought out the situation thoroughly and I gave up my idea to someone who could use it to their advantage, potentially with no traceback to me. The idea was anything but stolen.

In fact, I contend that the idea still hasn’t been implemented. I know of no tool or plug-in, for Right Hemisphere’s Deep Exploration or any other, that does polygon reduction the way I explained it. One person responded suggesting my idea was nothing new, as its just a “Hierarchical Z-Buffer”. However, what they failed to realize is I’m working in the modeling side of things, not the pipeline. I “concepted” a way a tool could analyze geometry and throw out useless polygons, similar to a runtime cull, but applied to the polygons in the geometry. My intent is to reduce and remove polygons from the geometry before it enters the pipe.

I feel I should mention some details about the second meeting since the situation was somewhat dynamic and beyond the scope of my original post. Really it is beside the point entirely but I feel that I should elaborate given the amount of attention I’ve received. I mentioned that the original man I explained my idea to didn’t work there anymore (presumably onto greener pastures) and I did so because it is truth, but also because it limited my options and perceptions at the time. Since he left the company, their was no option for me to contact him about the details of the tool/idea implementation, which was partially why I described the situation the way I did. Essentially though, the sales-engineers were listening to me when I explained what I do and how I foresee using their products. One of them was astute enough to recognize my situation and realize that something they had in development (or whatever phrase is appropriate) would apply to me directly in a positive way.

DeVry group projects

Wow, my first group project at DeVry was a disaster. The group was indecisive if not absent. This is probably due to the lack of chatter amongst us, no matter what I tried. In the end, I felt like I did a lot more work than necessary or appropriate for a group project. Since the prof has to review our team discussion area, hopefully he will grade accordingly. This could be good considering if the other group members do bad on this first assignment, they’ll need to step it up on our next assignments.

The assignment was to review the packaging of a game and then rewrite it after playing it for a couple hours. We decided to play Gish, a pretty inventive 2D platformer. I’d recommend giving it a shot, since its gameplay is different than anything I’ve played outside of a physics simulation.

Awarded

2008 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival
Silver Eddy Award
Pro-Am Documentary
Bill’s Big Pumpkins

Go Speed Racer Go?

I took my 5 year old to see Speed Racer in the theater tonight. It was a Friday, 7:15 pm show. I was expecting a crowd. In total, there were 7 people in the theater. Granted it was also showing on the IMAX screen next door, perhaps more people went to that one.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie. It was fun and funny and exciting and cool and pretty. My kid loved it and gave the wife an ear-full when we got home. I hope the movie does ok in the box office, to help promote this different approach to films. Unfortunately, as of this moment the tomato meter is at 35%.

Big Pumpkins, Big Surprise


This morning I managed to get up early, which is weird because I was up till 2 am. After the normal good mornings and stuff with my family, my wife told me to get a paper, the neighbor had told her I was in it. Of course, on my drive to work I grabbed one at the local Grab-N-Gas. There’s a cute little mention about my movie Bill’s Big Pumpkins. Here’s a link to the article in the Star Tribune.

Anyway, we’re part of the Home Grown Cinema series. Bill’s Big Pumpkins debuts on the first night, Monday May 12th! Here’s the trailer.

DeVry cheats?

My class at DeVry right now is GSP-240, Practical Game Design with Lab. It requires the Torque Game Builder and Torsion from Garage Games, Indie licenses. I’m kind of excited about this, it should be interesting and fun. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized the hefty price tag that comes with it. According to instructions from my course, it states:

“Note: the software is discounted through eFollett. If you buy it from Garage Games directly you will utilize your credit card and pay full retail price.”

When I checked the eFollett system the price is $158.75! However, when I checked the price directly from Garage Games the cost is cheaper! Torque is $100 and Torsion is $39.95. That’s a total of $139.95, almost $20 cheaper.

I know, what’s $20? Not much really, but still. Seems DeVry has managed to scam students out of a few bucks, charging them extra for nothing. Take that times 30 students and its money DeVry doesn’t deserve.

Portfolio Woes

I need a portfolio online, I just don’t want to spend time making it. This is stupid because I would really like having one place to show off my visual art, I’m just so busy. I hate that I use being busy as an excuse.

I’m considering the catch phrase “I Create.” I’m waffling on that though, I don’t know what a potential employer/peer might think when they read it. Hopefully it would be good.

I’ve considered expanding upon it, perhaps “I create worlds” or “I create experiences.” I think it could be a powerful message, though I think adding more detracts some from the power and simplicity of the short version. Leave it short and sweet; leave the details up to the imagination, to the individual. Of course, I will need art to back up my claims.

I remember this show from the 90’s, a sitcom about college life. This girl, approaching her finals, worries and nightmares about one of them. Her classmates reacted poorly to her uneasiness when she asks for advice, as if they may have some insight into the professor’s test they don’t want to divulge. Finally, after night after night of worry, and eventual exhaustion to the point where she sleeps through her study time, she arrives at the test in frantic concern. The test is one question. I don’t remember the question, but I remember the girl seeing it and the look on her face, the look of pure understanding. She scribbles something in a split second, jumps from her seat and turns the test into the professor, slamming it down defiantly. She leaves the classroom walking tall, while WTF expressions appear on her classmates’ faces, as if they were left out of some important conversation. What was her answer? “Brevity is Bliss.”

I Create.

IGDA Treat, Big John Games

Last night the Twin Cities chapter of the IGDA (Indiependent Game Developers Association) had local game developer Big John Games present their story, experience and insight regarding game development, in general and as it relates to the Nintendo DS and other consoles, and even local development. It was an incredible meeting. This is the sort of thing that really makes IGDA worth it.

Big John Games is a pretty cool company, one I’m really excited to see located in Minnesota. Perhaps that changes my impression of their games, so take that with a grain of salt.

Ken, the founder of the company (named after his dad, Big John) and his brother Don worked on the IP Spitfire Heroes, a World War II air combat arcade type flight sim game. Interestingly, Don is a published author of young fiction, aimed at boys 5-9 old. When I first heard that the DS game was based off a book (or related to a book in some way), I thought it would be stale. Knowing the DS’s limitations (via the experience I’ve had playing the games on it), I had a hard time imagining how you could capture a book into a DS game. What I realized after meeting Ken and Don is that the books aren’t historical, they’re fun. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Dawson’s Down, which I’ve already started reading to my boys.

Big John Games also has another release, Plushees. Last time I checked I wasn’t a 9 year old girl, so it doesn’t appeal to my gaming tastes. But what does appeal to me about it is that its a local developer making games for kids. I’m going to pick it up for my niece as an alternative to Tigerz.

I learned that the Nintendo DS has three engines, one 3D and two 2D. In the 3D engine, you can have a max of about 2000 polygons, with very limited texture space. One of their artists said he had to convert his 8000 poly model down to 196 poly with a 128×128 texture. I call that a challenge, a fun challenge!

I got a chance to play Spitfire Heroes and my first thought was that the first level is too hard. Your first objective is to defeat 12 tanks and there are three enemy planes trying to stop you. I tried about 6 times and eventually completed the level, but really failed due to the grading system (took too long, inaccurate, etc.) I was slightly frustrated with it that way, but I agree with their designer when he said they didn’t want the game to be too easy either. He said he cringed when he saw someone playing and crashing into the tanks, which is exactly what I did about 10 times. In the end, I’m going to buy this game, regardless of the metacritic score. Both because I want to support them, and because I want to play it more.

Inventions and Great Ideas

As if I needed more to do…

I’m now working with a friend on some invention ideas. He’s a real entrepreneur and thinks some of my ideas are worth investigating/researching and maybe even marketing. Being more active in my ideas feels good, especially talking with someone who sees their potential, is not a threat (NDA, w00t), and is willing to invest/investigate them. He’s a real hardware tinkerer, whereas he imagines I’m a computer arts tinkerer. I have to mention though, that the idea that got this situation going was my wifes. She’s rightfully apprehensive of the situation.

Regardless, this made me think of situation I had regarding an idea I had a few years ago. First let me explain the context. My day to day job was/is often translating Pro/Engineer assemblies into real time geometry. What that means is that the CAD software the engineers and designers used to design in was converted from its engineering 3D data, high detail, high accuracy, parametric model parts and assemblies, into low polygon, simplified representations. As much as I tried automating the processes, and even invented some automation techniques, the results still never looked very good. The computer just didn’t know what it was doing, where it was important to keep data (is that hole important or not), or where data could be removed, like the internals of a bearing assembly. Thus I was often struggling in Pro/E removing extraneous small details and then fighting in the low polygon modeler to further reduce details to get my models to adequate sizes, as well as optimized for run time performance. I still do this today, though not as often. You could say I’m a seasoned veteran in polygons. Here’s a picture of what I mean, I’ve come a long way baby!
Anyway, I had this idea to help my process, a way to automatically reduce poly counts quickly within geometry by simply looking at it. (Proof, an old forum post of mine!) Essentially, you loop the observer around your model, looking at it from all the important angles and note any polygons that are never seen, essentially an all encompassing cull. So one day Right Hemisphere was visiting, demonstrating some of their products, including one that supposedly could do this sort of thing for me (I think it was called Granite, Pro/E to OBJ with dial-a-fidelity sliders). The meeting was over for the most part and I mentioned my idea to one of the presenters. He seemed interested, but blew it off to show me something “interesting”. So nothing happens for some time, then I’m invited to another meeting with Right Hemisphere (they came back, they were trying to worm into our business, getting us to go with some of their content management solutions which we weren’t interested in). At the meeting we do the same thing but more focus on the bigger picture though I do get another demo of their products that apply to me. This time one of the sales-engineers says they have a new reduction algorithm in the works. Do you see where this is going? Yep, he explains the quick premise of how it works and you got it, it was my idea, the one I stupidly blabbed to the guy at the last meeting. Needless to say I gasped and asked if it was GuyName’s idea, to which the reply is yes, but he doesn’t work for them anymore. Long story short, I learned a couple valuable lessons that day.

Since that day I’ve continued to have ideas, some good, some obviously horrible (pork chop beer mug, drink then eat), but now if I share them I double check my audience and the purpose of me sharing (do I want to sound smart/important) and more importantly, can they gain from my idea without payback to me. In the case above, the situation provided me with little to no advantage (it was in a product or module/add-on we didn’t have or want) and gave them another bullet on their list to help sell their product and no credit back to me. However, I continue to use Right Hemisphere’s Deep Exploration product at work, but purely as a geometric conversion tool. At home, I’m still using 3D Exploration for the more obscure/older formats (3D Exploration was what Deep Exploration became, after RH bought it out and before they slopped the multi-hundred dollar price tag on it).

[UPDATE: New Blog Post: Trouble in Polygon Optimization Town]