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Redwall at GDC

I should have written this months ago, while all the memories were fresh, but sometimes you need a little time for an idea to find its place in your mind and sort itself out – perhaps this is one of those times.

A few months back we were at GDC in San Francisco. For the first time we took a risk and bought some booth space on the Indie floor sharing a slot with our friends at OmegaTech. Not being exactly organized we brought three things to show: a working build of Stargate SG1 Gunship, an alpha build of G Prime and a banner for Redwall. (Memo to self: next time try ‘focus’) G, for all the pretty screenshots, really wasn’t a good choice for a booth show – it’s more of a thinker really, and only alpha. SG1 showed pretty well. People seemed to like what we’d done with the UI, but far and away we had the most response to Redwall…even though we had nothing to show but a banner.

Seriously I was shocked…again. At times we had folks four and five deep around our tiny little table and at other times people were literally throwing resumes at us. Tweets and posts and selfies, all because of the way this series of books has touched people. There was a no-man’s-land of open seating adjacent to our booth and I could sit there inconspicuously watching as people would come up to the banner and take long pauses as if they were reliving fond memories. Sometimes they’d want to ask us questions but more often they just looked wistfully on at the sandstone walls and the setting rose-colored sun and seemed to be moved, almost to reverie.

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Posted 3 weeks, 3 days ago at 1:52 pm.

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Realsense & Unity3d : A First Look

(by Jon Collins, on behlaf of Soma Games and Code-Monkeys)

This article is part of a series that documents our ‘Everyman’ experience with the new RealSense hardware and software being developed by Intel.

Full disclosure, Intel does pay us for some of this stuff but one of my favorite aspects of working with them is that they aren’t asking us to write puff-pieces. Our honest, sometimes critical, opinions are accepted…and even seem to be appreciated…so we got that going for us.

A First Look

There’s no denying that the Pre-alpha SDK is exactly what it says on the box, a pre-alpha, that said there’s a surprising amount of useful functionality which can be gleaned from looking deeper into the C# samples that are present and taking lessons learnerd from previous SDKs.

First off, the kit includes a Unity3D sample (there is just the one in the current package) is the Nine Cubes sample within the frameworks folder of the samples directory structure.

This gives us a good starting point to look into how to take advantage of the camera & SDK, although a few red-herrings are present which may be hangover from development versions, it gave us enough of an idea to further explore and adapt some of the separate C# samples bringing that functionality into our initial Unity3D project. (CS: We use Unity3D almost exclusively here at Soma Games so having this bridge to RalSense was a practical pre-requiste for us to consider adoption of RealSense)

RealSense Hand Joints and BonesFor this exercise we were primarily concerned with being able to track & record finger joint positioning within Unity3D. The available methods and documentation suggest there is an planned ability to load, save, and recognize gestures from a pre-defined library but after a little digging and running questions up to the dev team it appears that feature has been ‘delayed’ :( So with our hopes dashed at not finding the C# gesture viewer sample we wanted to see how, or even if, we would be able to access the joints to explore developing our own approach to logging finger & hand poses.

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Posted 3 weeks, 6 days ago at 8:30 am.

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Getting Rolling with the RealSense SDK

(by Jon Hogins, on behlaf of Soma Games and Code-Monkeys)

This article is part of a series that documents our ‘Everyman’ experience with the new RealSense hardware and software being developed by Intel.

Full disclosure, Intel does pay us for some of this stuff but one of my favorite aspects of working with them is that they aren’t asking us to write puff-pieces. Our honest, sometimes critical, opinions are accepted…and even seem to be appreciated…so we got that going for us.

I recently got the fantastic opportunity to use a a pre-alpha version of Intel’s new RealSense camera to build a full-fledged app. It’s still a work in progress, but let me share my experiences and a few tips on getting the most out of RealSense’s video APIs.

The App

My mission has been to create a video conferencing app with a few interesting finger tracking interactions using the RealSense camera. After a bit of research, I decided on the Intel Media SDK for real-time H264 encoding and decoding and OpenCV for the initial display, moving to Unity/DirectX later.

Getting Started

Getting the RealSense SDK installed and creating projects based on the samples is straight forward, even in its Pre-alpha state. The installer adds the RSSDK_DIR environment variable and each VC++ project using RealSense only needs to add a property sheet via Visual Studio’s Property Manager. The documentation and samples are fairly comprehensive, and the APIs are the most accessible of any of the Intel C++ API I’ve worked with.

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Posted 1 month ago at 11:33 am.

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Gaming and Intel’s RealSense

The Future?If you were watching at CES you may have seen Intel unveil their RealSense initiative. This is really an evolution of the Perceptual Computing initiative they pushed a year earlier but now with (vastly) improved hardware and software. We’ve been involved with this program for a while now, but wearing our Code-Monkeys hats, and we’ve even won a couple of awards. While we’ve written in the past about the tech I wanted to share a few thoughts about what we see in the future.

Hardware-free interfaces like RealSense and Kinnect are undeniably going to be more and more common in the coming years and for many reasons but maybe not the reasons that seem most obvious. That said, the experience of building this kind of UI also exposed its weaknesses which were a little surprising. Take Tom Cruise here on the right in the iconic scene from Minority Report. Take a pose like Tom here and hold it. How long before your arms wear out and fall to your side from flaming deltoids? The limit of physical endurance was something that took us totally by surprise when we started this but of course it should have been obvious and while we found it to be a very limiting factor working with existing control schemes it forced us to think differently about how we controlled these games, specifically aiming toward schemes that were more autonomous systems that coasted, needing occasional input instead of constant input.

Related to this was the matter of latency. No matter how ninja I get, moving my arm takes an astonishing amount of time compared to twitching my thumb. Ergo, any of the control schemes or game mechanics that required twitch controls were a non-starter using meat-space controls.

These are a couple of the limitations we saw but what I’m really excited about was how those challenges lead to exciting epiphanies!

RealSense and technologies like it invite us to consider a very different way of approaching our games, our data and all of our virtual interactions – and the magic of it all is in the appealing ability to treat these virtual worlds in the way we treat the real world using our hands, our voices, and the well-honed ability to recognize spatial relations. Input schemes can move increasingly away from buttons and joysticks and drill-down menus (after all, these were always mechanical metaphors for physical actions anyway) into modalities more like dancing or conducting a symphony. Our virtual spaces can operate and be organized just like our real spaces and screens are more like windows to other worlds than flat representations of flatland spaces or even the compression interface into three-dimensional, but largely inaccessible worlds.

F: The Storm RidersSo if it’s not clear – we’re very, very excited about where this tech is going and working with it in its infancy has been kinda mind-blowing.

For practical purposes, expect to see us deploying RealSense technology in Stargate SG1 Gunship (under the Code-Monkeys label) F:The Storm Riders, and Redwall: The Warrior Reborn. It’s too soon of course to rely on this input being available but we will definitely make the games to use this tech where it makes sense. (We considered a RealSense version of G, but it feels like a poor fit)

We’ll be at GDC in a couple of weeks and if this is something you’re interested in, stop by and we’d love to talk to you!

Posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago at 6:22 pm.

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Redwall Step 2: Ship It

Redwall AbbeyRedwall AbbeyCraft : The Corsair’s Last Treasure is live.

In case the point of that is lost, that means that the very first officially licensed Redwall video-gamish-thing is now out there in the wild. Bam!

If step one of our journey was to Shout It then step 2 was clearly to Ship It. In other words, we needed to come out with a win. When we were working on all the license deal for Redwall we found that the internet was littered with 15 years of false or failed announcements of various shows, movies, games, merchandise…you name it. Some of them were very professional and ‘real’ looking. Others were more plainly false. I can only speculate on the motives of those folks but whatever was intended we saw that the past as preserved on Bing presented us with an uphill PR challenge where fans were likely, and reasonably so, to say “I’ll believe it when I see it!” And while the success of the Kickstarter campaign was a good ‘win’ it ultimately only proved that we could rally some eyeballs and left open the question of whether or not we could build something that respected and embodied the spirit of Redwall.

To those Doubting Thomas’s out there – reach hither thy mouse and behold: Download The Corsair’s Last Treasure now!

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Posted 11 months, 3 weeks ago at 4:35 am.

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Iliad House and an interview with Phil Lollar

Illiad HouseA couple of days ago I had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ Phill Lollar via a quick phone interview. We don’t typically review games or upcoming projects here but this one seemed like a special case and I reached out to see if I could chat with the the gentleman. If you don’t know him, Phil is one of the original creators of Adventures in Odyssey. If you don’t know AiO it’s a fantastically popular audio drama that Focus on the Family has been putting out since 1987. It’s spawned videos, books, video games and really stands out or its quality and popularity.

Phil worked with AiO for many years and now he is ramping a new audio drama called Iliad House which is currently running a campaign on Kickstarter. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1605189113/iliad-house-an-audio-drama) But all that said – the reason I wanted to catch up with Mr. Lollar was something we had in common – a desire to see well-written stories get out there in the public marketplace and bring deep meaning to the ongoing cultural conversation.

Iliad House, according to Phil, will be “pushing some envelopes” in terms of its content but I suspect he was talking about the relatively conservative envelopes of the folks used to listening to AiO. He said they’d be looking at things like alternate dimensions, time travel, the supernatural, etc – he even mentioned zombies but retreated fairly quickly. “Okay, probably not zombies…” but I was thinking “Why not man! At least in gaming zombies sell everything!” Still, edgy content in mind, Phil makes no bones about the fact that he’s coming at this story – like all the stories he writes – with his plainly Christian worldview as a foundation or his stories. On that point Phil and Soma are right there in the mix together. (See: Every Game Has a Worldview Whether You Like it or Not)

Iliad House - A new Audio Drama from Phil Loler

Iliad House – A new Audio Drama from Phil Loler

There are several things about Mr. Lollar that made me feel as if we were cut from similar cloth. For one thing he appears to be in that sweet spot where he’s comfortable and candid about his Christian faith without being aggressive and nasty about it. He seems to be neither the Silent-Secret-Christian who’s decades of silence have allowed many to think that there are hardly any of us out there when in fact we are millions. But nor is he that particularly vitriolic brand of Christian who say far too much, and in horrible ways, making the Silent-Secret-Christians want to hide their head in embarrassment. Instead, he’s strikes me as the kind of guy who is simply honest. What’s next is that he takes that honest faith and welcomes it into his work. So Iliad House, a work of speculative fiction, is plainly and deliberately influenced by the way he understands reality – as it should – instead of a weird Sunday-Face / Monday-Face split so many Christian businessmen feel compelled to inhabit. Thirdly, Phil Lollar has already proven that he believes in quality and craftsmanship in his work, not collecting Ichthys Points for having his heart in the right place. Finally, for this post anyway, I enjoyed his willingness to embrace and enjoy entertainment for the sake of entertainment. I don’t know whether or not Iliad House will wind up with either an evangelistic or a didactic function but our conversation indicated to me that he wasn’t of the mind that fun and beauty weren’t good goals in and of themselves – good on ya Mr. Lollar!

We talked about other things of course, his history with Focus, audio dramas beside Odyssey and the ways the business of audio drama has changed, like how the production technology has changed over the last 20 years to where he directs voice overs via phone or skype and .WAV files are the currency coming from home studios all around the world. We chatted for what seemed like a good long while to me and he was generous with his time and insight – and I liked that.

Still, while talking to him put a real face to the project I realize that I was sold on pledging to Iliad House almost as soon as I saw it. Not really because of what it is (though I really like the premise) but because I love that KIND of thing. Quality art that embodies the joy, passion, and fun of Jesus even in hidden subtle ways.

I hope you’ll check out what they’re doing.

 

Posted 11 months, 3 weeks ago at 7:34 pm.

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Soma Games Selected by Praxis Labs

Praxis

We just got some great news: Praxis Labs (FB/TW) has selected Soma Games as one of their 2014 ‘not-just-for-profit’ Fellows – and we’re…

Well, we’re a lot of things. We’re humbled. We’re jazzed. We’re honored. We’re incredulous. We’re proud. We’re scared.

Praxis Labs was launched in 2012 during Q Idea‘s annual conference when it was in Portland, OR – our backyard. Q is a kind of Christian TED, or a think tank that tries to make some ancient concepts practical and relevant to modern times and they have a central notion (which I agree with) that America, and probably the world, is in a ‘post-christian’ time and that insight requires people of faith to think about things in a very different way then we maybe did just 20 years ago. Praxis, like Q, also puts a premium on the ideas of ‘impact’ in a very practical incarnation – talk is cheap and spiritual feel-good talk can be both cheap and ultimately do more harm than good. Praxis Labs has seen ink in several high-profile publications like the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and on Fox Business. Previous fellows include cutting edge enterprises like FigMatchbook LearningRare GenomicsTegu, and Care for AIDS just to name a few. And while I’m dropping names, the list of mentors who participate reads like a who’s-who list with a significant tilt toward toward high tech, including a partner at Kleiner-Perkins, and a co-founder of EA. In short – this accelerator program stands to put Soma Games in front of some really influential folks…can we handle it?

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Posted 11 months, 3 weeks ago at 9:58 pm.

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One Million Downloads! Now what?

One Million downloads…

When Soma Games was started I don’t think we had any idea that such a number was even a possibility. At other times, as we saw certain titles explode onto the scene with huge download numbers, a mere 7 figures seemed like a gimmie. Today, with both extremes more tempered by poise, we recognize the milestone as significant…but we’ve only just begun.

As I write this, the ‘news’ o the number is at least a few months old and it was something I’ve been meaning to note ever since then. No matter what it’s an auspicious event and worth pointing out. But have you ever come to a place that you thought was a destination only to find it was simply a checkpoint?

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Posted 1 year, 2 months ago at 10:53 pm.

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Redwall AbbeyCraft

Sometime in the next 72 hours, unless something unforeseen slows us down, we’ll pull the trigger on a small kickstarter campaign.

The immediate goal, and the actual deliverable, is something we’re calling AbbeyCraft – a build of Redwall Abbey inside Minecraft and, at the lowest funding goal, distributed as an adventure map.

To be crystal clear: AbbeyCraft is NOT the adventure game we’ve been talking about. It’s just a small step along the way…but a way fun one.

As we mentioned in the previous post, the various descriptions of the abbey across 22 books cannot be reconciled in 3D space. One way or the other a few tweaks, bumps, and cuts will need to be made as we ramp up for an explorable space and  we feel like Minecraft is an ideal tool for that work. Continue Reading…

Posted 1 year, 3 months ago at 9:26 pm.

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Redwall and Some Ground Rules

Last week’s announcement took me by surprise – or rather, the overwhelming response to that post took me by surprise. I knew the Redwall community was big…really big. What I hadn’t accounted for is how active you are, how connected, how ENGAGED!  And of course many of you are asking questions that I can start to answer here, though for many of you this post wont tell you all the things you’re really looking for. Still – it’s a start. Continue Reading…

Posted 1 year, 3 months ago at 4:28 pm.

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