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That Long-Overdue Redwall Update…

It was sixteen months ago that we posted our first blog regarding Redwall, or Project Mouseworks. Shortly thereafter we launched our AbbeyCraft kickstarter, it funded, and then roughly a year ago this month AbbeyCraft was released. All going well so far. The plan at that point, as far as we could see it, though shrouded in some pretty dense fog, was to wrap up a modest private funding effort, build a modest adventure game and then see what happened. It was a pretty straightforward plan and while Redwall was obviously a big thing, our goals were fairly short term and limited. But something happened on the way to that pivot and while it’s cost us some time I hope you’ll see it as something overall quite positive – I know we do.

Setback #1: If I’m honest, I was just horribly naive about how the private funding world works. I’d never done it before but with all things considered it felt like the right play as opposed to either a traditional publishing deal or taking a second draught at the crowd funding trough. I’ll certainly write more about this experience in the future but suffice it to say that I underestimated the time this was going to take. On its surface that sounds like a bad thing, it was certainly wretchedly frustrating at times, but as I’ll describe below I think it was actually a blessing in disguise.

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Posted 3 weeks ago at 10:00 am.


RealSense Gestures: Reality and Wish Lists

As part of the continuing series covering our experience with the RealSense technology from Intel, I’ve been thinking about gestures…

I’ve been saying for a long time that one of the keys to Apple’s success in getting developer buy-in for iOS was the very approachable and well designed tool kit they provided in X-Code. It was as if they polled 100 random potential coders and asked, “If you made an iPhone app, what’s the first thing you would want to tinker with?” and then they made all of those APIs easy to find and easy to use. The result was a tool kit that rewarded you early for modest effort and thereby encouraged developers to try more, to get better, to learn more again and keep exploring the tool kit for the next cool thing. It made adoption of something totally new feel manageable and rewarding. That not only encouraged the curiosity crowd, but also the business-minded crowd who has to ask, “How long will it take to adopt this tech? And is it likely to be worth it?” So long as the first answer is “Not too much.” then the second question is less acute.
The point being: it enabled early adopters to show off quickly. That drew in the early followers and the dominoes fell from there.

RealSense would benefit greatly from this lesson. Hardware appears to be in the pipe and were adequately impressed by the capability – check. A Unity3d SDK (among several others) is looking really sharp – check. So now I’m thinking about the question, “…What’s the first thing I want to tinker with?” and probably 75% of my ideas revolve around gestures. In fact, gestures are probably the essential component of this input schema and as such, it will be make-or-break for Intel to make gestures easy to get started with and also deep enough to explore, experiment, and mod. But Easy needs to come first…

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Posted 1 month, 1 week ago at 6:49 pm.

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Expression or Outreach

StreetPreacherComing back recently from CGDC has me thinking again about something I always think about at CGDC – whether or not we’re the “black sheep” of that group…and if we are, is that a good thing or a bad thing.

Last year at the end-of-conference Town-Hall part, where everybody can basically bring up anything they want, Mikee Bridges from GameChurch said something that brought this idea back to the front of my mind. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was something along the lines of “Are all of our [game projects] actually serving the function of outreach[1]?”

It’s a perfect question for Mikee. After all, GameChurch’s mission statement is one of outreach – specifically an outreach to gamers. But I was surprised at how quickly my mouth popped open and I said “that’s not what we’re doing…” And I’ve been pondering that brief exchange ever since.

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Posted 1 month, 3 weeks ago at 3:09 pm.


RealSense Rubber Meets the Road

Continuing our series on Intel’s new/upcoming RealSense technology we recently got the alpha build of their Unity3D enabled SDK and a much improved version of the camera. While the package is cool and opens up a lot of interesting theoretical possibilities it got us thinking about the practical question surrounding this tech.

RealSense is, at its bottom line, an input device. In that sense it will be measured against things like joysticks, mice and game controllers and as a developer trying to make a living with this software we’ll be looking at several things beyond the “cool” factor. Things like:

  • Addressable audience
  • Typical hardware profile
  • Time/cost to implement
  • Processor overhead

When we’re being compensated to experiment and do basic R&D (And – full disclosure again – we are.) then we can ignore basically all of these considerations but when we move past that and start to explore actually deploying such tech…suddenly the calculus for deployment changes dramatically.

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Posted 1 month, 3 weeks ago at 3:00 pm.

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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 2 months, 3 weeks ago at 1:52 pm.


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 months 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 3 months 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 6 months, 4 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 1 year, 1 month ago at 4:35 am.


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. ( 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 1 year, 1 month ago at 7:34 pm.

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