December 02, 2015

AMOLED / OLED Monitors Finally Coming ! ?

OLED displays have been around for a while now and are a rapid growth industry right now with the added burst of 4k. Many of the CES type events in the last year featured OLED TV's and boasting 4k and curved displays which OLED really helps make a reality to begin with. First some back story to explain why this is.

I remember buying stock for PANL on the NYSE back at 18$/share before they were bought out a few times before becoming what they're listed as now which I think might actually be OLED on the NYSE... Anyway they were already developing flexible displays back then and I remember seeing a sci-fi movie called ultra violet with one of my favorite actresses Milla Jovavich in it at the time that led to my discovery of the stock. Back then flexible displays were nothing more than a novelty and only in small scenarios less than a smartphone. This however was an OLED technology already blowing my mind and I was excited to see what would come of it. As the years grew and AMOLED started showing up in smart phones and the PS Vita I was sure it was only a matter of time before I started seeing TV's and computer monitors. Yet for some reason things had stalled. In a fight among new display technologies to see what the next big thing was the competition ended up imploding on itself causing the entire industry to stagnate as I watched hopeful contenders disappear like one technology that had all the benefits of CRT on a small diode that could be stacked infinitely for any size screen provided you could handle the weight. People became content with fighting between IPS or TN panel LCD's with and without LED backlights with no real interest in OLED. I figured it must be a misunderstanding where people just didn't know about this amazing technology.

Now manufacturers started noticing a push for higher resolutions above full HD 1080p and somewhere along the line they latched on to 4k labeling it UHD and aiming to make it a reality. Though work began years ago to start this trend it was still well thought out but there was a problem when it came to making these screens. The processing power necessary and difficulties in manufacturing the displays themselves were significant enough that manufacturers had to start looking for better ways to produce these panels. This is when OLED started looking like an attractive and extremely viable alternative. With new production methods helping ensure high volume production with fewer defects and developments in the notorious lifespan of blue pixels it was prime to at least test the waters. OLED displays are fundamentally different and as such one of their benefits of production is the ability to deposit the reactive material on sheets in any size with relatively uniform density and spread making it perfect for any size screen from smart phones to billboards. As manufacturers also found out the added benefits made it such a clear choice over existing options that we've already begun to see new manufacturing plants being built all over the world to ramp up production in the next 3 to 5 years in an effort to completely phase out LCD technologies.

So what are these added benefits? Lower power consumption, brighter screens, higher contrast ratios, faster pixel response times, higher refresh rates, lower input lag time, and for the first time since CRT's a uniformal superiority to the antiquated technology still considered ideal in some special use cases where things like color gamut are critical. Effectively making OLED the absolute superior display technology in every aspect with perhaps a minor exception to lifespan where if abused through maximum brightness settings after several years the screen can lose maximum potential brightness and cause color shifting.

If it's so amazing why don't we already have these screens everywhere? The answer boils down to the fact it simply took this long for production to be of a high enough output volume to make it economical. As the technology took off in smartphones once facilities could handle the load they can with relative ease change from small screens to big ones which is exactly what they're doing. Which then leads in to the computer market where we still have yet to see laptops or monitors that really use the technology. Why didn't we start seeing monitors with the first wave of TV's as well?

This comes from the fact that monitors are significantly different from your standard TV where manufacturers can get away with slower input lag times and not calibrating their color profiles. Display technologies and standards take extra development time as well as calibration for production and tighter quality controls where a dead pixel is very noticeable due to proximity where as one pixel on a large screen at a greater distance is nearly undetectable to the average viewer. The variable frame rates you can get as input also require additional development on image signal processors which also have to be designed for the higher pixel density and the larger screen than you would find in a smartphone. The end result is a lot of extra time and money put into development when the demand just isn't quite there yet until people start buying and using OLED TV's to create the demand for the monitors. Which is what we're seeing now as the push for 4k and OLED go almost hand in hand. Which is why I'm so excited to see these displays popping up at various booths and what it means for the future of my entertainment.

December 27, 2014

Quicktime events from a dev perspective

If there's one thing I unanimously hate more than anything in games these days it's quicktime events. This is both as a player and dev but my views as to why are different on each. So just a quick recap in case you missed any of the dozens of rants from zero punctuation, totalbiscuit, or omegaalphasins basically quicktime events *qte from here on out* are those annoying little popups asking you to press a button or you fail whatever you're doing. If it's god of war its whenever you kill something, if you're in mass effect its during a cutscene when you're picking a renegade or paragon option, in CoD it's that button you push to avoid getting your throat ripped out by a dog, and if you're in heavy rain well.... you're not playing a game you're participating in an interactive movie comprised almost entirely from quicktime events.

I would clarify that button mashing is different from qte simply because it's not a sequence of buttons or some carefully timed don't die button, instead in button mashing you pick one button or any button and you stick with it often the amount of times pressed doesn't even matter. While sometimes a qte can be a press any button situation it's usually a live or die scenario.

Qte just don't belong in most games even though almost all games these days have them to some degree. In some places they just feel really out of place and can often come without warning usually in a cutscene where you figure "oh it's mgs4 so I've got time to go and watch a movie, get dinner, and come back before this scene is done" when out of nowhere there's a random "press X to not die" probably just as a way to make sure you're not taking a piss break or getting a sandwich. Then you're stuck watching it all over again for another chance to fail. In an action game its so horribly out of place it takes you straight out of the game especially when it's something heavily skill based where you're making something as important as not dying as stupid as a qte.

Simply put qte is not gaming, its an approximated facsimile of interactivity to a scripted sequence of events that can rapidly and repeatedly end in a failure state. From a dev standpoint this is just lazy programming where you don't want to be bothered with figuring out how to design the game to make something happen you'd rather just have it happen in a cutscene that nobody can ever watch because they're too busy looking for buttons to press. I'll admit that it does take a lot of effort to make that happen and that qte is a shortcut but that doesn't make it an excuse. When I handled this problem I found a way to make the native controls function so that a player with skill could accomplish the given task. I know that the qte is meant as a handicap for the players without skill to still progress but damn it that's part of the point of gaming is that if you can't do it then get better and try again it's about self improvement. A qte doesn't require skill it just takes practice after you've failed a couple times then it's just simon says after you've memorized what to press. This is the cheapest in both literal and metaphorical ways to go about developing and dare I say a dishonorable shame on the company.

Qte shouldn't be used where they don't belong and my fellow devs need to get this message, if you can't afford to make it happen then don't substitute effort for a qte instead just make it a cutscne and call it good because that'll piss off the consumer base a lot less.

On a final side note, if I had no choice I'd implement qte as a press any button non specific and maybe have a free form combo system without prompting in which the player feels they're solving their own way through rather than having their hands held throughout.

November 22, 2014

My Amish Friend

Some times in life you meet the most fascinating people. I've had a friend for a little over a year now that I didn't realize outside of his quirky behavior simply had not experienced modern culture really in any form much less american media. He has had a sheltered life isolating him from most things that the average american 90's kid would know as generic trivia. So while he's book smart and dresses sharp in a classical sense if you ask him to do the macarena he'll look at you like you're talking jibberish.

I took it upon myself then to educate him on pretty much everything you won't find in a book and even some things that you might find in a book but lose a bit in translation of media. I gave this project of mine a name of "The US Department of Mandatory Media" in which the title accurately reflects the intent. My goal and design was to try and think of every possible thing I could that I think every person should experience in their lifetime as of today.

This meant showing him AC/DC, metallica, and various metal bands of all kinds, he was drawn more towards symphonic and melodic bands like Nightwish, and power metal like newer disturbed albums. He also took a strong liking to Dubstep and early Rap. I then started to catch him up on trends in pop culture through the years while also establishing a list of movies and tv shows and assortments of youtube videos. This content rather than overwhelming was like an addictive drug with an endless need for consumption. I've spent the last few weeks just showing him new material day in and day out and he can't seem to get enough. He managed to work his way through all of game of thrones in just under 2 days. He can't stop quoting the terminator movies and he's just soaking up all the content he can like an endless sponge. He finally realized this is a marathon not a sprint and went home today to prepare for next month.

I'm reaching out now to anyone who might have a suggestion of something they truly like and think its something everyone should experience at least once. I can be anything at all, you don't have to restrict yourself to music, movies, or tv, just share something that can be done almost anywhere by yourself or with a small group of people. If you're wondering what we've already made it through in that regard simply assume whatever you're going to suggest that we haven't as we've barely scratched the surface of everything he's missed out on in the last 20 years.

November 11, 2014

We were sick

So my computer caught a bad case of poweliks rootkit trojan whatever (w/e) you call it. This little nightmare has been bugging me for a few days. If anyone here is noticing a bunch of dllhoste.exe processes on their system and can't figure it out you might want to look in to it. I happened to likely pick this baby up on one of three gaming sites which I actually disable my adblocker for. While I disable it in many places such as when I'm reading blogs or certain sites I enjoy I can narrow this case down due to the fact I hadn't been to really any sites in the last week or so other than those few.

Meanwhile I've been having a nasty cold I caught from some friend of a friend and everyone that caught something from her last time was sick for months afterward. Thankfully this one seemed to pass by quickly but in my immune weakened state I then caught an extra 3 infections with wildly different symptoms and my doctor finally gave me some heavy duty meds to completely destroy anything that comes my way and boost my immune system back up a bit. Now that I'm in fighting shape maybe I can get back to posting again.

In the mean time if you have the same poweliks problem my solution was Rogue Killer. so check it out if you need the hand or just think you've got something else nasty on your system that malwarebytes can't handle.

October 31, 2014

Branching Storylines the dev perspective

Not every entry in this series is problematic or controversial. In fact this was one of the best examples of team building I experienced in my process. The idea for branching storylines was practically a given when I first started with concepts and it was only a question of how far I wanted to take it to the extreme.

I found that some concepts are far to wild to run with and the cutting floor is much harder than an early cut. I originally had an idea for using D&D style decision trees where during dialog you could use your triggers and shoulder buttons to select an alignment then your face buttons for the choices. The team jumped on it with new sub teams for each alignment generating an overwhelming amount of content.

Then came time to make it a reality with voice actors and game scripting to make it all work. Sadly we found almost immediately that the amount of dialog and options was going to be massive and yet we kept trying to find ways to make it more efficient and keep as much as we could. In testing we found even with visuals on screen to help players most of them picked the same options over and over leaving plenty of content unheard. When we asked them why it sounded like the quality of the writing was uneven so certain choices were just inherently better. Even with revamps though it turned out some options were just out of place in a given scenario.

I then questioned what kind of a game I was really making. I knew from the beginning it was going to be a somewhat linear storyline and the primary point of the dialogue tree was to show that choice was really just a facade and that some things are meant to happen or are unavoidable. At the same time I didn't want just a linear style action game especially with all the other content we'd already started to produce.

Then came the hard choice of deciding how to change the decision trees and what scripts to cut. I had our testers pick which options they liked most and narrowed down our choices to a bland single page multichoice system more in the style of quantic dream games (beyond two souls, heavy rain) than bioware (mass effect, dragon age) and eliminated the morality of it all completely stripping out alignment. In some cases we completely removed choice simply because our testers unanimously agreed on a single option and thus we made it an automatic response.

I think everyone understood when I announced the cut that it really was necessary and while the implementation was far from perfect it wasn't the actual problem it was more of an identity issue of what the game really was and how the system itself was out of place. My future recommendation is that if you're going to include dialogue trees, seriously consider them in advance and don't do voice acting till you've already tested everything else.

October 26, 2014

Racism in game from a dev

This is another entry in the series of dev problems. While I didn't have nearly the problem with racism complaints as I did sexist complaints it still came up. Mostly it was over linguistics and word selection. I didn't go into eubonics or any nonsense and for the most part things were fine on paper it was in development that this really came up.

Similar to how it was with sexism I had complaints that a character was black or was too black and if I changed it to white it became "why isn't this guy black?" and this was before we even had a script. Later on it was revisions to the script  over and over till finally I switched the character to white and nobody complained about the script then so I switched the character back. I found it was better not to give anyone a color or face until the script was universally approved for content then I'd assign models and voice actors.

When it came to voice actors there was a whole different story for another article unrelated to this I might have to write, but basically actors wanted to switch characters and in some cases didn't like other actors for some reason. Once I had the voice actors and some pre-vis of the scene it was the expected problems of people saying the voice was too this or too that or was implying something that wasn't there which led to dozens of retakes until it was perfect. The real hard part was getting people to separate the quality of delivery and the content which was sometimes meant to be offensive.

Part of the game was intended to include racism. It's not out of place or forced it's a very natural inclusion yet it sparked some conflict within the group leading to a few members leaving. That's probably one of the harder things to deal with especially as an indie dev where every member is invaluable. This wasn't racism for the sake of it, it was racism with a purpose and a message which I was thankful most of the team members understood.

The strange thing was the only complaints I had about racism were about strictly black characters. No complaints about any of my content for latin, asian, european, or otherwise. There was an unrelated complaint about a french character but it wasn't racism related. I thought that either that says something or it's a huge coincidence. Either way while the headache around racism seems to be much smaller and shorter lived it can be so much more painful than dealing with sexism.

October 10, 2014

Sexism and Sex in games from a dev

This will be the first in a series about challenges that comes up as a developer. These problems and questions tend to come up in all the different phases of development often repeatedly and I thought it's worth discussing.

While this was the biggest headache I've really had as a developer outside of setbacks and conflicts. In the early development stages I took serious consideration of what types of characters I would have and how they would behave. One character I thought I would have written to be a little flirty and another to be a quiet and clingy type while the others were fairly standard. Turned out even in early stages the question came up of what this would say about women in general. I tried to explain my side only to realize my side apparently didn't matter and arguing was futile at best. I charged ahead though with the mentality that providing context and keeping it low key would be least offensive and things might be fine. I also considered adding a small sidequest for romance of which I also considered the bioware route of including an illicit scene that was still very pg which got scrapped in the favor of a more unspoken romance expressed through gestures and looks, very subtle material.

Outside of the game I questioned why I insisted on finding women to help in the process as an actual goal as opposed to "just post and see who wants in" kind of mentality. Not to be too obnoxious about it but I simply had easily 10x more complaints about every facet of the process coming from the women than the men and more requests to change key elements of the game. If I'd approved even a quarter of those requests it would've been an entirely different game. So like a good dev I kept them all written down and am working on a new story for that as a just in case. The flip side of that is of course the fact that it worried me how the men basically just did what they were asked and apparently didn't look for ways to improve. I can understand trusting in me hoping that I know what I'm doing or not wanting to corrupt the artistic integrity but it's better to speak up than leave me in the dark.

Once I finally got in production and started getting scripts and art together suddenly it's like an explosion of accusations about what a sexist I am for every little detail. It had me concerned to the point I spent easily over a week just trying to please everyone with revisions. I'll admit the first revision of "flirty" read more like slutty once it was read out loud to me by one of our voice actors, and maybe the original costume designs were too form fitting but after a few days I just thought at this point they were pissed that I chose to use women in a combat situation. So on the 4th day I came back with designs for men telling everyone no women in the game at all and they were double pissed that I wasn't going to include women as main characters anymore. I thought it was hilarious how many really wanted at least the medic to be a woman compared to the sniper or other roles. Honestly at that point I'd already dealt with so many complaints. Here's the short list: she's too fat, skinny, boney, round, curvy, big breasted, too small of tits, too small a waist, too small feet, too big a head, too big of eyes, too long hair, too short hair, too long fingers, too long legs, she's too short, and oh so many more. I had well over 50 different designs up for voting each of them taking roughly an hour of work to complete and not one of them came close to making a majority happy. So I asked for everyone to pick their favorite parts and send me the list with a basic number guide for each body part and which picture and do it that way only to find most of them didn't know what they wanted. Suddenly all the complaints of a feature being too big or small didn't matter when they realized there was every size from non-existant to the moon they settled on the original which they complained so much. I don't mean picking the actual original but using number guide voting the result was identical to the original which just left me with a kind of facepalm moment.

Then we finally get to making the 3d model and it's basically the same thing all over again but in 3d which means things are suddenly too round or too jagged or unsymmetrical. In this case we were actually renting a 3d scanner for the day and I asked everyone to volunteer to step in the machine prior to the unveiling of first character models and I then pointed out how I'd used a part of every member of the team pointing out their particular part on the model and not a single complaint was had. Though I'm not sure the exact reasoning or logic behind how that works but I must say human psychology is a funny thing at times.

I can only imagine how much hair I would've lost if I'd decided to include even a suggestive fable like sex scene. Though in playing through my own game I kinda still want some of the characters to hook up so maybe next time around.