Working vacation

So, the wife was kind enough to give me a daddy-cation last month, which I took to go see Steely Dan in NYC.

I also took my nice DSLR to go roam the city streets and collect texture maps, a favorite pastime when I lived there. I’ve collected terabytes of photos that have yet to be tiled, tone mapped and color corrected. Yet an other favorite pastime of mine.

nyctexture copy

Another thing I did was to try and get decent shots for a photogrammetry idea that I had: create a NYC garbage can. I had been reading on the /r/3dscanning subreddit about it and had tried a year or two back with VisualSFM, with mixed results. I recently read about Autodesk’s Memento and decided I’d give that a try.

I was absolutely shocked when I added the resulting .FBX file to a Unity scene and the sheer level of detail on the street, let alone the sidewalk. the can itself was problematic because it had intricate detail and ended up with several holes in it, I suppose I could fix those in Blender, but would have problems getting the textures realigned.

I’ve seen others recreating rooms in VR using this method, and one of the best ones, IMHO, is the 4th Floor Studio Apartment – while not a game level environ per se, a place I loved putting on my goggles and visiting anyway.

Breaking all the rules

So, if you read any dev blogs, they’re always chock full of advice, ranging from the latest tips and tricks on every piece of software available, to breakthroughs and milestones reached; but inevitably there are some rules that people put forth as sacrosanct.

Well, I’ve decided to break a couple.

One that always comes up is: Finish what you are working on before starting something new.

The problem is; I’ve never worked that way. As a painter, I need to have multiple canvases going at once. If I stare at one painting too long, I get drawn into a funk of ‘sameness’ – its the same reason I can’t sit and binge watch a whole season of TV shows. I start over-analyzing and I get resentful.

So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break from BUM and work on an earlier project, an adaptation of the play / short film “Sovereignty” that I had the honor of working on a few years ago. By trying to improve what I’ve started with what I’ve learned working on BUM, I can tackle issues that stalled that project and when I get stuck there, I go back to my other project and the 2 of them become like ladder rungs I can climb at once. Playmaker hasn’t been the magic bullet I had hoped for breathing life into my characters and if I continue to be stuck, I might start trading art for programming…

The other rule that people harp on is: Don’t try and do to many projects at once.

This one might apply a bit more, but I can at least start laying the groundwork for something that might be a breakout piece for me. My eldest child is on the Autism spectrum and is fairly non-verbal. In every other aspect, he’s a normal kid – loves climbing, exploring and watching cartoons, has a fondness for sweets and doesn’t like bedtime. He just doesn’t talk much. One thing he truly is engrossed in (and as an artist I’m thrilled by) is drawing. He has gone through several boxes of sidewalk chalk this summer and every chance he gets, he’s outside covering my garage floor in layers upon layers of drawing. When he comes out, he’s covered head to toe in chalk dust.


But his drawings are compelling. Some are obviously cartoons he’s seen or toys or trains, but others are simply things he’s seen in his day-to-day life. And I think they’d make great sprites for a 2D scroller / platformer.

Iknow, I know – I can’t take on a 3rd project – none of them will ever be finished, but whle I’m cleaning up the yard or watching the kids play, I can snap a few photos and throw them into Photoshop to start prepping them to animate. After all, I’ll need another project as soon as I finish one of them, right?

My Year in the Rift

My year in the Rift

Exactly one year ago, I was on vacation with the wife and kids when I got a text from our wonderful neighbor who keeps an eye on our cat and waters the garden while we are gone – I just got a large box delivered on our porch, perhaps a certain package I’ve been waiting for?

As an avid long term gamer (you should have seen my anticipation downloading the Quake 2 demo on dial-up!) and have always been drawn in by the interactivity. I’ve never been a fan of passive tv watching, and, after our family got an Atari 2600 one Christmas, its been a steady evolution of interactive adventures. Beating “Adventure.” The thrill of solving Infocom’s “Wishbringer,” on our family’s first computer. Being blown away by the graphics of “Another World” on the Amiga. Further blown away when I purchased my first PC, a AT&T Globalyst desktop with a CPU clock in megahertz, no math co-processor and playing Quake 1 running on a 15 inch monitor at the smallest possible resolution and still loving every second of it (I still often play the Quake 1 soundtrack as background noise when I’m working), playing the Half Life series, Thief series and many more hours than I care to claim.

And yet, I still craved more interactivity. I downloaded mods to make games anaglyph 3D. Adding surround sound systems to my gamning rigs. I wanted to mod Wii controllers to implement Johnny Chung-Lee’s head tracking. Still nothing grabbed my attention like the whispers I saw on Reddit about a VR headset that worked. I was instantly hooked and spent a lot of time learning everything about it that I could. When the DK2 was announced, I sold a couple of paintings to purchase it. I think the wife is still a little off put over that decision. And I waited for the day that my shipping notice would arrive.

Of COURSE it had to be while we were on vacation. I gave my neighbor dire warnings on how important this package was. Offers of booze, money, my firstborn child to ensure my delivery was safely in my house, under lock and key until I returned. I’m a safe and careful driver, but the return drive home I fought the urge to floor it all the way home. I found my new toy on the kitchen table and resisted the urge to skip sleeping to play with my new toy, as I had to be up in 6 hours to attend to the kids.

I managed to get a small chunk of free time the next day and hastily set up my Rift and installed the drivers and runtimes and dove right into the desk demo. And gasped. And laughed. And sat there in bewildered amazement, looking all around me – standing up, kneeling under the desk (and losing tracking in the process) and reluctantly tore myself away to attend to the real world. I was ecstatic when the wife offered to give me a night off from the kids and I eagerly dove into every demo I could download. I rode rollercoasters, visited haunted dungeons, went flying. Nothing grabbed my attention like a small demo by Brendan Coyle, he did a simple studio apartment and the moment I stepped into it –

I felt real presence. I was there. This was the small studio I wanted in NYC. I was there and it was sunny and warm out. I explored the kitchenette, the bathroom, tried to read the titles of the books on the shelf. I wanted to open the door, go down the stairs and to the nearest bodega for a bagel and cream cheese. It was that real.

It didn’t take long for me to delve into gaming on the Rift – I was surprised when Quake 2 made everyone else queasy within seconds, yet I could take hour long doses of it, even with a tendency to have vertigo, maybe years of twitch gaming had dulled my nausea reflex. I dove into Half Life 2 with a zeal – stopping to look at the decades old game and the mastery of level design:

little details jumped out at me and again, that sense of immersion gripped me tight and I was willing held captive as long as I could afford.

Eventually, I wanted to create my own worlds – to take the ideas bubbling in the aether of my imagination and make them whole and walk through them. I picked up Blender (having a little experience in 3D work, I knew the concepts, just needed to learn a new interface) and picked up Unity – both free options to express myself; with little time and less money, FOSS options were my only choice and I try to support these and other endeavors as much as I can. I dove into making my worlds and the day came when I could cram on my Rift and hit Enter and after that all too familiar Health Safety Warning…

Ye Gods… it was a basic polygon world and primitive texture mapped, no fancy normal maps or SSAO shading – but it was mine. And I could walk through it. All the paintings I’ve done that I wished I could walk through – worlds in my head I wish I could visit, all of these were in my grasp, just yearning for my feeble skills to flesh them out and make them tangible, more cogent…

As I played – as I built, as I worked my way through trial and fumble – other things tickled the back of my head. I’ve always been a political animal and very socially aware of the world around me. Being a creature of New York City, I’ve met many souls from various pockets around the planet, lived with more subsections of race, creed and faith than most meet in a lifetime and have heard their tales – when you hear a taxi driver spill out more truth about the universe than a dozen philosophy professors, it changes you. I’ve always felt that if you could just step into another persons shoes, see what they see – it would do a great deal to improve how our species relates to others of its kind. If a person could see what its like to be told you have cancer, or you just sold a patent worth millions, or have to make a choice that benefits your family but wrecks someone else’s family; to see an opposite political point of view, a different faith, how the world looks if you have autism. I want people to see other points of view, or use this tool to help those with a phobia get over their fears or help people to revisit places lost (can you imagine the joy of being able to walk around your childhood home that had burnt down to the ground?)

This new medium might just be the culmination of a lifetime of my interests; art and computers – 3D animation and Photoshop – video games and experiencing adventures previously unimagined. And I’m so thrilled its happening now and I can be a part of it.

Where have all the good times gone?

Some days, I’m fortunate to have a babysitter come and watch the kids for a couple of hours, keep them distracted, amused and on nice days, out of the house while I get a little dev work done. I plan out my agenda, get my assets in order so I can be efficient and get as much work done in my little allotted time.

This was not one of those days.

I woke up shortly after 5 AM, sounds of my youngest fussing and my wife tending to him. We have a deal, she gets the kids in the middle of the night, and I let her sleep in on the weekends. After 15 minutes or so of non-stop meltdown, I got up to see if I could help. The missus informs me that our lil’ guy stripped off his diaper, peed all over his crib, blankets and stuffed animals – and is now throwing a fit because he can’t go back to sleep with his soiled bedstuff.

Since she leaves early for work, I had to take junior and calm him and coax him back to sleep, which sorta worked, until his big brother decides to wake up at 6:30. Oh well – at least the babysitter will be here today.

Except, when she gets here, I can’t focus. I’m dragging. Creative impulses are as useless as logical focused thinking when I’m tired. The best I can do is play around with a bunch of mocap files I got off the asset store, to see if I can incorporate them onto MakeHuman .fbx files and if they’ll play nicely with Mechanim & PlayMaker.  Sadly, I just can’t get it in gear and instead fiddle around in Photoshop, putting together a graphic design idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while:

diaperdown copy

Oh well, there is always next week…


New look – new VR logo

So, I decided the old layout was too difficult to read and found something that showed off my work in a better light. I’ve also been trying to migrate to Windows 10, having problems with my laptop freezing. Joy.

The editing rig seems to suffer no ill effects (so far!) but it is used less, so when the next birthday video needs editing, we’ll be putting it through its paces. On a brighter note, it does seem quicker and more responsive.


lastly – I finally got a decent tutorial on how to make a splash / logo screen in Unity and threw together a sample scene based on an old Truespace project. I like the idea of something I worked on almost 20 years ago can have new life breathed into it and be useful.

Cop Out

Been trying to work out Playmaker schemes in my head, how to make things interact. My big crowning achievement last week was adding a sound effect to the player shaking his cup. My thanks goes out to the kids babysitter, who happened to walk in with a paper coffee cup, that I promptly commandeered to get that ‘authentic’ panhandler sound effect. Since most of my dev time is in the wee hours of the morning, I needed to hide in the basement bathroom to record my sound effect, lest I woke up anyone…

At some point, I’m going to upload a very pre-alpha to /r/oculus, just to get some preliminary feedback, and perhaps a few pointers on Playmaker and optimization. In the meantime, I’ve been working on another idea, working in a police officer who interacts with the player – perhaps using the players gaze as a variable. Stare at the cop too long and he wanders over to tell you to scram. Flip him the bird and *BAM!* You get beat up and arrested – game over.

So, its baby steps – I got this model from Yobi3D, rigged it and animated a walk cycle using this tutorial – I think it needs a little tweaking, but am generally pleased with the results:


I realized that the tagline of this blog is ‘Game Dev AND Stay at Home Parenting’ and I’ve done little to document the latter part of that clever little phrase…

Just about every day, I try to get up an hour or more to get some work done, some days, like today, I can plug away at my secondary characters animation. Its nice and quiet, I sip my coffee and try to imagine a well-to-do Upper East Side wench telling off some panhandler on her morning commute, what her posture is like, how she’d thrust an accusatory finger while saying something derogatory.

Other mornings, one or both of my progeny will throw a wrench into the works and wake abysmally early and wreck what I had planned on working on. Just last week I heard footsteps on the floor upstairs. I sighed, made a few quick notes on what I was planning on working on, hoping that after I got the elder child off to summer camp,  I’d catch up later son #2 took a nap. It happens. And if those footsteps are indicative of who they are, its my older kid and we’d get to snuggle on the couch for a bit, watch some PBS kids and have a quiet moment together before the other one woke up. So I wend my way upstairs and gingerly open the creaky door to the kids room…

My son is busy barfing on the floor.

He’s upset, he doesn’t get sick very often and is scared by what is happening. I’m trying to calm him so he doesn’t choke, trying to hold him in a position where anything else that might come out will land on the hardwood floor instead of his playmat, keeping him at a bit of a distance so I don’t get barfed on.

And now the other kid is awake – and screaming because he doesn’t know what is going on.

Yeesh – I just wanted to work on a walk cycle.

Offer calming noises to the youngest, strip the older one, grab a handful of paper towels to clean the floor, grab both kids to hold them, sit down on the bed and calm them and try to remember if I’ve got the summer camp number saved on my phone and if I don’t, where might it be – because I’ve gotta call and lat them know my kid ain’t coming today.

Some days are like that. Other days its full on Thunder Dome where I’m trying to send a simple message on Reddit asking where is a good place to get feedback on my pre-alpha build and the two of them are leaping off the furniture Crouching Tiger style with chainsaws, locked in gladatorial combat…


Anyway – I’ve just recently added PlayMaker to my arsenal, and while it took me a bit to get, it looks like it could radically change my game for the better. Now excuse me, my youngest is kicking the side of his cage, I mean crib, demanding release…


Rigging the game

As I wend my way further into this VR experience, the more complicated things become. I was lucky enough that a talented voice actress recorded a few lines of dialogue for me – I’ve been trying different methods of getting more advanced animation, especially facial expressions, into Unity. I tinkered around a bit with the .MHX2 file format – but it seems getting it to work with Blendshapes in Unity is a real Gordian Knot to untie.

But – even as one problem gets stickier – another is getting easier. I’ve decided to add a police officer as an antagonist. Possibly trying to set up a mechanic where if the user looks directly at him, he’ll get aggravated and harass the user. But that is down the road – I’ve been busy working on one of my favorite parts of 3D – Rigging!

Thanks to Yobi3D for the model!

cop model
cop model


Push Forwards

I’ve been encountering difficulties with the Rift SDK – my project wouldn’t play in the editor and my builds would crash. Since its new tech, getting help is a bit of an uphill battle since everyone is still figuring it out.

Out of the blue, Valve announces their own SDK plugin for Unity (with UE4 support next week) and I thought I’d give it a shot. Well, its a win / lose – I can play in editor (and in VR!) but my builds only play a black screen (but it plays without crashing!)

Also – I saw on reddit a generous VO actor offering to record some dialog for free, and I pitched my idea and she accepted it! So I’ll have a few disparaging lines from a snooty secretary type to mess around with. Which means I’ll have to explore the .MHX2 option for Makehuman export, as the regular .MHX gives me a single jawbone to try and lip sync with…

Success! and a setback

I finally overcame the problem of animating Makehuman characters and getting them into Unity. More or less the problem seemed to resolve itself when I upgraded to Unity 5. And now my token booth clerk walks, talks and cusses – thanks to dialogue I recorded at 6 AM when my voice isn’t exactly spry.

Only now, I can’t quite get the Rift integration to work – there are a bunch of coding references I don’t get – and one unhelpful person over at /r/oculusdev suggested I ‘learn to code’ to fix my problem. Yeah pal, as soon as I see a programmer start drawing proportioned, balanced and properly shaded figures or demonstrate how they can make texture maps with alpha masks…

Anyway – neat side note: The texture glitched on my guy, and he has a neat cyberpunk-ish feel about him, if I ever do something in a sci-fi setting, I will definitely re-use him.