Hackathon Examples Around Birmingham in Video

Hackathons are a great way to learn new skills and provides opportunities to work with other students in small groups / teams. Many Hackathons take place around Birmingham with the essence of some of these having been captured in video format. The selection of videos below from past Hackathons should help to give you some idea of what they are like and perhaps help to encourage you to attend such an event in the future if you haven’t been to one before.

Even if you have little to no programming experience you should still go along to a Hackathon. Sometimes you will find participants who have graduated several years before and others who may still be in secondary school depending on the format of the event. Some Hackathons are closed events – focused on a particular University institution, many are more open to all who are interested. Many of the larger more open Hackathons are helped by Major League Hacking (MLH) an organisation that can help you setup and run a Hackathon event.

Bull Hack 2017, Curzon Building

Hack The Midlands 2016, Millennium Point

Local Hack Day Birmingham 2016

Aston Hack 2015

Brum Hack 5.0

BrumHack 4 Final Presentation (2 Hour Video)

BrumHack 2014, Live Demos (~80 Minute Video)

BrumHack 3 (30 Hour Timelapse <5 Minute Video)

Game Jam 2014

Typically Hackathon events take place over a period of 24 Hours, though some can be shorter day long events, or longer 48 Hour events. Often these events have a theme or some suggested areas within which you should try to develop some form of novel / interesting software solution. At the terminus of the coding period, each team will then have the opportunity to give a short presentation / demo of the product. These presentations / demos are often judged by a panel whom award prizes at the end, before the final wrap up. Above all the most important part about a Hackathon is participation, as you never know what potential employers may be in attendance. They also serve as a very useful addition to ones CV and can help to make it stand out.

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A Visit to #HackTheMidlands Hackathon 2017

On Saturday 23rd September 2017 a 24 hour Hackathon called “Hack The Midlands” kicked off at Millennium Point in Birmingham. Around 150 attendees turned up to share in the adventure of writing some code in teams. Quite a variety of participants took part including students from Birmingham City University, Aston University and the University of Birmingham. Other participants included a number pre-university and several whom had graduated several years before. It wasn’t just students of computing taking part either, but also had participants from disciplines such as Maths, Physics and Psychology. Some of the participants travelled quite a distance to take part in the Hackathon, with several coming from St Andrews up in Scotland and one all the way from Italy. Nine Workshops were also taking place during the event, covering things from web development and Node.js to VR (online).

It wasn’t all just about writing code either with many teams working of electronic based projects such as a 3D Printer, Arduino, Breadboards and the like. A good bit of soldering and de-soldering was also taking place. Was really great to see a diverse range of ideas and projects being brought to light. For some this was their first Hackathon, for others they had been to many before as some of the images below of laptops covered with Hackathon stickers can attest to. A few mascots were also to be found dotted around the desks such as “Otto the Octopus”.

Useful Links
Hack The Midlands Website (online)
HaCS Hackathon and Computing Society, Birmingham City University (online)
HaCS Twitter Feed (online)
Aston Computer Science Society, Aston University (online)
ACCS Twitter Feed (online)
Computer Science Society, University of Birmingham (online)
CSS Twitter Feed (online)

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Keeping Cool
The 3D Printer Project was really quite interesting on two fronts. Firstly for the seemingly random parts deposited in the base and secondly for the innovative use of soft drink cans to elevate the printer to help facilitate systems cooling.

Hack The Midlands 2017

Hack The Midlands 2017

Hack The Midlands 2017

Day 1 Tweets
Below can be seen a selection of twitter posts from the first half of the Hackathon event.

Visit to the UK’s Biggest Gaming Event – EXG 2017

Last year during University Welcome Week, several bus loads of BCU Computing students along with a number of staff headed off on an adventure to visit Bletchley Park (online). This year The UK’s Biggest Gaming Event EXG 2017 happened to be taking place during welcome week, so several hundred students and staff ventured to the NEC to explore the world of computer games – past, present and future. The photos below should help to give some small sense of what the event was like.

One could find several hundred retro games available to be played – a detailed list available from the Retro Strand (online).

EXG 2017 is running from Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th Sept inclusive, so plenty of opportunities still exist to check out the event and play some games. The 2016 EGX event had over 75,000 people in attendance (online), will this year be even bigger?

Useful Links
EXG Website (online)
EGX Facebook Page (online)
EGX Twitter Feed (online)
EGX on YouTube (online)
EGX on Twitch (online)

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This EXG 2017 Trailer on YouTube may also help to give a good sense of the event.

The following embedded videos are of various talks that took place during the opening day – 21st Sept. These talks include Andy Serkis discussing Planet of the Apes, Xbox One X & the Future of Console Technology with Digital Foundry, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Designing The City of Kings, a MMORPG inspired board game with Frank West and How Firaxis saved XCOM from complete disaster with Jake Solomon.

Data Structures – Working with Queues and Games

Queues are really quite a fundamental data structure that all in computing should know. Probably one of the most popular real world examples of a queue in operation is that of a checkout counter in a shop. This is a classical example of First In First Out in operation. The first person to join the queue will be the first to be served at the checkout. All further customers join the back of the queue. Hence is a nice example of enqueue() and dequeue() in operation.

The “Hot Potato” Queue Simulation
Another example that is often used is the “Hot Potato” (online), whereby a person has a “Hot Potato” that gets passed around by “people” in the queue. At each iteration a “person” from will become removed from the queue and placed at the back – therein enqueue(dequeue()). This will occur a certain number of times before the “person” with the “Hot Potato” will be finally removed from the queue. This process continues until just one person remains.

Print Queue
An example more tangibly related to computing is perhaps the “Print Queue”. When a new document is sent for printing it is placed at the end of the queue enqueue(). The process of actually printing off a document will remove it from the queue dequeue(). Under many circumstances this will removed the first print job. However many multi-function printers/photocopiers of today, will present a list of print jobs one screen once you log on, allowing you to select which job or jobs you wish to print. So the example of the “Print Queue” isn’t perhaps the best any more, although even with these multi-function one can often “Select All, Print & Delete” which will print off each job in the “Print Queue” following the standard FIFO ordering.

Waypoints
So what might be a good example of a queue system in operation that would be applicable to students studying Game Development? One nice example is perhaps that of Waypoints, the following (online) link is to an animation that moves an onscreen object towards a location the user has clicked (Waypoint), as the user clicks other locations, these are added to the “Waypoint” queue. When the onscreen object reaches a Waypoint location it is dequeued.

Message Queue
Another nice example is of how to implement a “Message Queue” in a game (online). In this case game avatars can pass messages to one another following a distinct packet/envelope structure, that of: sender, destination, type, data. Therefore instead of having Objects communicating in what could be almost considered as a fully interconnected mesh of messages (just consider what a system sequence diagram for this would be like). All Object / Avatar instances instead communicate with each other through a single queue based messaging system.

Production / Build Queues in Games
One example I considered quite applicable to Game Development students was that of the Production Queue. Many stratagy based games make use of “Production Queues” or “Build Queues” to creating anything from Tanks, and Ships to Aircraft and Experimental Weapons such as the AC1000 from Supreme Commander 2 (online) developed by Gas Powered Games.

The Noah Unit Cannon Experimental (online), is a fixed emplacement that can queue up the production of several types of land units, such as the Rock Head Tank, Titan Assault Bot and the Sharp Shooter Mobile Anti Missile Defense to name but a few.

Simcity Buildit
Simcity Buildit makes very extensive use of Production / Build Queues through the form of Factories that produce basic materials such as Metal, Wood, Plastic, Glass and Electrical Components. These items can take anything from 1 minute for Metal up to 7 hours for Electrical Components to be produced. When fully upgraded these factories have a production queue of 5 units. Materials produced in the Factories can then go on to be used in one or more of the nine Commercial Buildings. The Commercial Buildings take the form of Farmer’s Market, Furniture Store, Hardware Store and Donut Shop to give just a few examples. Details of all the items these factories and buildings can produce can be seen (online) (online). The following videos give some sense of what these building are like.

Given that one can wait almost an entire day to process a full production queue of Beef (11 units) it is very useful to have the opportunity of speeding up the process with “Speedup Tokens” in the form of: Turtle x2, Llama x4 and Cheetah x12. To create “Speedup Tokens” one must either earn them through the “Contest of Mayors” or create them from small pieces by creating “Epic Projects”. These are building that can create a fragment of a “Speedup Token” every 24 hours. The more “Epic Buildings” one has the more fragments are needed to create a “Speedup Token”, however as a starting point one needs 3 fragments for Turtle, 6 for Llama and 9 for Cheetah.

Perhaps tasking Games Development students with creating Production Queues that simulate the creation of Beef, Televisions, Popcorn or Pizza as is the case with Simcity, or Land, Air and Naval units in the case of Supreme Commander is a good way of demonstrating the use and need for queues – particularly in strategy games. Another interesting reason for focusing on Production / Build queues is that especially in the case of Simcity Buildit, many of the items produced are dependent on other items. Therefore quite long chains of production can be formed just to produce the necessary resources to create one “Expensive / Complex” final item.

Parallel Processing / Super-computing
Simcity Buildit provides a really good example of the costs associated with production / processing and relate very well to issues around Parallel Processing / High Performance Computing (HPC) / Super-computing and how jobs can impact one another in the determination of the overall execution time. The classical example of this is the process of making breakfast – many tasks can be done in parallel, though one will be constrained by the cost of the operation that takes the longest. Taking a parallel approach to making “breakfast” can however yield a good deal of cost / time savings over a step by step approach (online).

What other Games use Production Queues?
Do you know of any other games that make heavy use of “Production Queues” / “Build Queues”?

BCU Global Game Jam 20-22 Jan 2017 – Event Summary

Over the weekend of Friday 20th Jan to Sunday 22nd Jan 2017 the Global Game Jam 2017 (online) took place. Tens of thousands took part at locations all around the globe, with Hawaii being the last to kick off. An embargo was in place on the theme until Hawaii had begun, the idea being not to talk about the theme online until Hawaii had joined in the fun. The theme for this year was “waves” which provided quite a deal of scope and direction for idea generation.

One of the locations for the Global Game Jam in the UK was BCU in Birmingham which was organised by Liam Sorta @LiamSorta and Andrew Wilson – Programme Leader for the BSc in Computer Games Technology @BCUGAMESTECH. The event had a great turnout of over 100 people, many from Birmingham, but others from Warwick, Southampton, Newcastle & as far afield as Australia (though had been in the UK since the first semester). It wasn’t just University students either, but also a good few graduates whom work in the games industry. Once the theme for this years jam was announced everybody broke up into teams (a little over 20 in total) and headed to the labs to do a quick brainstorm of ideas and routes to take, before getting down to making those ideas a reality. A large number of the teams made use of the Unity Games Engine, though one or two teams developed their games in Python.

One can see all the games that were uploaded to the Global Game Jam site from Birmingham (online). One of the great things about this is that you can download both the source code and executable, hence can play the game yourself and also learn how it was developed.

The Game that won the BCU “Innovation” prize was produced by a group called “Signal” (online) which was based on one having to navigate around a 3D environment that was pitch dark. One could emit sound waves to help see the outline of the environment & thereby navigate around the environment. This was very much akin to how Daredevil (2003) (IMDB) perceives the world and also similar to how Batman used “sonar” to see his way around a building in the dead of night – The Dark Knight (2008) (IMDB). The winning team for this prize had been selected by myself (online) and Mak Shama (online) having viewed all the presentations on the Sunday afternoon.

Representatives from two companies were also present at the Sunday presentations @VERYGOODFRIEND and @fishinabottle whom also selected teams to win prizes. Zen(x) (online) was particularly creative in developing a unique idea in the form of using a combination of a dozen sine wave calculations to control an onscreen icon, requiring the user to interact when it reached the centre line & therein changing the trajectory of the sine wave. The graphics had very clean lines and very much mirrored the “Zen” concept whereby the user could just relax and enjoy the game. Ooodle Showdown (online) was also another unique game for two players. It featured some very nice graphics and required players to navigate through a sea of characters something akin to a cross between the Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters and the Michelin Man. Each player (blue or red) could send out a sort of sonar wave and would turn the character that colour for a short while. The best thing to probably do is to download and play the game yourself to see how it works.

I had spent a good few hours each day at the game jam. It was really great to see the initial ideas dreamed up on the Friday evening evolve into quite functional games by Saturday and then on to more refined games by the time they needed to be uploaded on the Sunday prior to the afternoons presentations. All in all it was really great to see such a variety of fantastic games grow from an initial idea into a working game in just a matter of 48 hours. The well know phrase “two heads are better than one” certainly holds true whereby the key strengths and talents of teach team member could be harnessed towards one definitive goal and deadline.

Key Web Links
Global Game Jam Site (online)
BCU 2017 Game Uploads (online)
Twitter Hashtag #BCUGGJ17 (online)

Social Media Selection
The following selection of embedded tweets and instagram images from a number of those present during the event should help to give a good sense of what occurred over the 48 hour period.

One of the most gorgeous #platformergames at #bcuggj17 #gamedev #skyfell

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

#bcuggj17 #afishysituation #gamedev

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

Great gothic, woodcut imagery and folk feel with #caniborrowalight #bcuggj17

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

Really impressive visuals, atmosphere and fantastically executed #signal is really interesting #bcuggj17

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#ahoythere definitely the most ambitious and exciting game from this years @bcuggj17

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#bcuggj17 #seewaves

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#bcuggj17 presentations

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#bcuggj17 #allhandsondeck

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Beautiful minimal sound and art style from #zen at #bcuggj17 bcuggj17 #indiegamedev

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#kingbooty #bcuggj17 #gamedev

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#bcuggj17 #oodleshowdown #gamedev

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#bcuggj17 #teammiodsnowstorm #omni amazing game idea!

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#necrodeulists #indiegamedev #gamedev #bcuggj17 #globalgamejam

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#wanishingwaves #bcuggj17 #gamedev

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Awesome ideas and beautifully executed in the game Spectrum @bcuggj177

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#globalgamejam #bcuggj17 #indiegamedev #gamedev

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

Dawn.

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

Examples of Graphics, Animation and Fractals in Film

Vol Libre (1980) created by Loren Carpenter is an extremely well know example of early computer animation. It used fractal terrain generation of create a flythrough of a three dimensional landscape. This would in turn lead on to the development of the Genesis Sequence in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan (1982) (IMDB).

Another good example of computer generated imagery is the Light Cycle battle from Tron (1982) (IMDB).

Tron Legacy (2010) (IMDB) features an updated Light Cycle battle.

Flight of the Navigator (1986) (IMDB) demonstrates the first use of image mapping the surrounding environment on to a surface. In this case it is mapped on to a Trimaxion Drone ship from Phaelon. It also features some nice scenes whereby the Drone ship morphs from “Class 3” mode to “Class 1” – thereby allowing it to efficiently cut through the Earths atmosphere.

Going back to Fractals – its interesting to see how Fractal Graphics seem to crop up in film’s from time to time such as the Mandelbrot Fractal paint job of a car featured in a desert scene from Transformers Revenge of the Fallen. This can be clearly scene at time index (0:35) in the following video clip.

Fractal techniques were again used to generate the lava spewing forth and landing upon a platform, on which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker were engaged in a lightsaber battle, located on the volcanic planet Mustafar in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005) (IMDB).

Another nice example of fractals being mentioned in a film comes from Star Trek First Contact (1996) (IMDB), whereby the Sovereign Class USS Enterprise NCC1701-E is being taken over by the Borg. The Borg are trying to reroute main control to Engineering where they are based. Upon hearing this Captain Picard asks commander Data to “Lockout the main computer”, after some interaction with a console, Data responds by saying that “I have isolated the main computer with a fractal encryption code, it is highly unlikely the Borg will be able to break it”. Hence as you can see even in the 24th century, fractal techniques still prove to be very useful.

Wikipedia has a nice list of computer animation in film and television available (online). Do you know of any other interesting examples of computer graphics / animation featured in films.

The Carbon Journey Event – What does the Future Hold

At the start of the week a day long event was held focusing on what the future holds for the world in which we live. It was organised by Aston University and Birmingham City University and held at the Genting Arena. As you will see from the images below it was quite an amazing and eye opening event, attended by a large number of staff and students from both universities.

The world of tomorrow is likely to be a good deal warmer than it is today. The degree to which the average world temperature will be warmer will have an enormous impact on the lives of billions. The population of the world continues to grow and by the end of the century could very well reach anything from 9 to 11 billion people. A growing population needs ever more resources thereby growing our carbon footprint. However if we are to combat dramatic climate change then exceeding a 2 degree change from per-industrial times will have very serious consequences for the planet, population, plant and animal life.

Many countries have signed up to limit their carbon footprint, but with current commitments, estimates put the average global temperature increase at a good bit over 3.5 degrees. Anything beyond a 2 degree increase will have drastic results, therefore it is clear that far far greater measures will need to be taken by everybody whom call planet Earth their home.

The event was well timed as just a few days before (27th Oct) it was announced that global wildlife populations had fallen by 58% since 1970 (online). What will the global wildlife population be like by 2050 or 2100 if immediate measures are not put in place to curb this dramatic decline?

A good few tweets were generated throughout the day with the hashtag of #carbonjourney (online). Further details about the event and the days programme can be seen (online).

The images below should give you some sense of what the day was like. As can be seen quite a number of speakers were on stage throughout the day. Painting the a picture of what the world of tomorrow may be like from a number of perspectives.

Carbon Journey Genting Arena

The following video – gives some sense of what the news could be like just 30 or so years from now – in the year 2045.

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