What Qualities Make a Game Popular?

I recently made a post about Dare to be Digital 2016 (online) highlighting a number of video pitches. What qualities make a game addictive & popular? To what degree does the gameplay, sound effects, music, graphics, playability, level of difficulty have a bearing on the overall popularity and addictiveness of a game. The following are just a few popular games.

Cooking Fever
Cooking Fever is all about cooking – anything from burgers and hot-dogs, to pizza, suchi and baking. One can upgrade kitchen appliances to make cooking faster, upgrade the restaurant to increase customer wait times and how generous they are with tips. The main interaction style consists of simple drag and drop. When a customer arrives at your kitchen, the ask via a graphic bubble representation of the items they are looking for, e.g. an icon representing a burger. You then need to get some burger buns set out on your work surface and start dragging the ingredients on to complete the burger. One of course needs the cooked burger meat, along with various combinations of extras such as lettuce, tomato, ketchup – dragging each component on to the burger bun. Once the burger is fully assembled one then drags the burger to the waiting customer. If you manage to do this quickly enough they will drop coins representative of the price of the burger along with a tip for good service on the counter and leave as happy customers. As the levels progress the number of customers and combinations of food items increase. At the time of writing the number of installs was between 10 & 50 Million, the game is available from the google play store (online).

Angry Birds
Angry Birds has become an extremely popular game with 100 to 500 Million installs of the app via the Google Play Store (online). What are the qualities of launching a bird at various targets to get them to topple over that makes the game so popular.

Candy Crush Jelly Saga
Having 10 to 50 Million downloads Candy Crush Jelly Saga is certainly another popular game (online).

Clash of Clans
Available from the Google Play store (online) has between 100 & 500 Million installs.

SimCity Buildit
With 10 to 50 Million Google Play installs SimCity Buildit is certainly another popular game (online). This game is all about creating a city and populating it with residences, so you can earn Simoleons through the construction of residences and earn tax from same as well. One can also earn cash through the Trade Depot whereby you can sell goods that you create. One can sell all manner of goods from the basic raw materials created by factories, to more complex items created by taking the raw materials and forming them into a new product such as: Doughnuts, Shoes, Watches, Nails, Vegetables, Tables & Chairs to name but a few.

As you level up through the game further opportunities for Trading become enabled such as the Port for shipping your goods overseas, or the Airport (available once you have a population of 120,000). The Airport allows you to gain special items allowing you to build new types of residences with higher population capacity, namely, Paris, London and Toyko zones. To keep the population happy one must supply them with basic services, provide them with places to relax (parks), and a whole host of other facilities from Schools and Universities, to Entertainment and Gambling.

Over time one can create a city of some 4 million inhabitants and stretch out the area of the city to encompass both the beach and mountains. These areas allow one to build special buildings that can greatly boost the population within a certain catchment area.

At the Vu Tower (available at a population of 90,000) one can unleash a number of different disasters, that allows you to gain valuable Golden Keys. The most basic disaster one can unleash is the Meteor Strike, followed by Earthquake, Alien Invasion and several more.

What makes a good game?
How important is the embedding of Social Media in a game?
Do you make use of in-app purchases, to buy credits, upgrade systems etc?
Is it easy to lose track of the amount you spend on in-app purchases?
How important is the time it takes to complete a level – especially for Mobile Games?
What are your favorite games and Why?
How often do you play games on your Mobile?

24 Camera Raspberry Pi – Bullet Time Photography

In a recent post I mentioned about helping out some students developing a tutorial on Quadcopters as part of their coursework for a 3rd year module of mine called Interactive Multimedia.

This post is about another group of students who worked on building and coding a Raspberry Pi based Bullet Time rig – again for the same module. The idea for this came from Dr. Andrew Robinson who had built a 48 Camera system with a PiFace Control and Display (Online). It would have been great had it been possible to demonstrate the system at the recent 24 Hour Hackathon just a few days before but time and space didn’t really allow for that to happen, so here’s some info about the rig instead.

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Initial development was carried out just on a single Raspberry Pi, once the image was successfully captured and transmitted it was then up-scaled to work with four Pi’s. The next phase of testing was with around ten Pi’s, and all seemed to work well. Some tweaking to the code was carried to speed up the capture / transfer process from the initial small scale tests. The afternoon of Wednesday 22nd April came the time to do a larger scale test of the system – with the submission date for the coursework just a few days away. Hence 24 Raspberry Pi’s were gathered together and configured for a larger scale test, as you see here.

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

To allow space and plenty of power sockets to get the system running the 24 Camera Raspberry Pi – Bullet Time system was setup in our Green Room / Motion Capture Room. The following images run in reverse chronological order, firstly show the Bullet Time Rig in use, and works back to setting things up. The very first capture test conducted was flying a paper plane through the capture space. Followed by tossing ten empty power supply boxes for the Raspberry Pi’s into the capture space along with a few other ideas too.

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Would be really great to try building a larger size version of the rig as the software is capturing from all 24 cameras and transferring to the Computer in just a few seconds. Perhaps something on the order of 75 cameras or more mounted on a laser cut stand with some 3D printed elements to secure the cameras and Raspberry Pi’s in place would be ideal with a diameter of around six meters. Such a rig should provide a good opportunity for capturing some really interesting shots. Its likely that the software developed will be placed on GitHub fairly soon, and may have another post or two showing some of the actual generated output. All one needs to build this rig is some Cameras, Raspberry Pi’s, network cables, a switch and the software.

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Reviewing one of the very first video files generated by the system.
Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Checking that the Pi’s were connected up and in communication.
Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Making use of a 48 port switch to get things going.
Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

We had some visitors too, who popped by to take a look at the setup.
Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Initially the system was setup to make use of two 24 port switches, though with the choice of having to do some switch reconfiguration or just using a larger switch, the 48 port switch option was taken, and perhaps made for a more interesting cable layout scheme!
Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Raspberry Pi Bullet Time Rig

Some Cool Video Equipment from NAB

The following video features some interesting equipment featured at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show that was held in Las Vegas 6th to 11th April 2013. If you watch the video you will see a selection of camera stabilisation equipment. In one case instead of the standard steadicam and active computerised stabilisation system is presented that can be easily hand-held. Other featured products include cameras & Jibs.

Vimeo Takes NAB: Tech News from Vimeo Video School on Vimeo.

Experimenting with Photography

The following videos demonstrate some interesting setups where as always light plays a hugely important role. The first example below is that of creating the Bokeh Effect. This is achieved using a long lens to set the background out of focus. The background has a dark card / velum lit from behind with a number of holes punched in it to allow light to stream through. Capturing an image of an object good and sharp in the foreground with the Bokeh Effect in the background can create some interesting effects. The addition of gels or coloured acetate sheets can add that extra dimension. Perhaps experimenting with a number of coloured acetates could generate a really nice effect. The addition of a reflective surface adds some really nice reflections into the mix both from the foreground object and the light streaming into the scene from the background.

Another interesting effect can be created with a zoom lens with a slow shutter of a few seconds. Varying the zoom over the time of the exposure to the imaging sensor generates an interesting blurring. You will see that the scene is initially composed with just one side on light, though the resulting exposure is a little dark, hence the addition of some additional lighting to the front of the subject solves this.

A fairly recent previous post looked at light painting, mainly from the perspective of a person creating shapes using a torch or a mobile. The video below is a different view on light painting where objects are illuminated with light. Varying the placement of the light, from back, front or even just from the top down creates quite an array of different shots.

Given that one can use black card in the production of the Bokeh Effect from the first video above another nice composition to try out is to photograph a wine glass making use of a few black cards to control the lighting / reflections of the scene.

If you are perhaps doing a good deal of product photography then you may find something like a Lastolite Cubelite to be of use, so that you can have nicely controlled soft lighting of the product you wish to capture.

Folding up one of these Cubelites can require a bit of practice.

Lights Camera Action & the Silver Screen

In the previous semester I had a group of students for a module on Audio & Video Production. In the past days a new YouTube Channel was created and a selection of videos were uploaded. A week or so prior to this I had organised a screening of the videos at a Cinema located just a few minutes away from where we’re based. It was really great to spend some time in the projection room and see both a film and digital projection system.

The videos below should give you a sense of what the students produced, I hope you enjoy them. Have written another blog post giving a little more info on this.

Garbage Matte and Colour Keying in Premiere

If you have recorded some footage making use of a green screen and wish to insert your own background behind the actor/talent then it is well worth while to reduce the overall computation load of the chromakeyer beforehand. The 4/8/16 Point Garbage Matte may be found within the Video Effects option of the Effects panel, within a sub folder called Keying.

Should your actor / talent be moving around quite a bit, you may wish to keyframe the position of the garbage matte over time. The video below give a sense of the keyframing process, once you can do it for one effect you can do it for any effect.

The final step is to go ahead and apply a chromakey effect to the video clip on your timeline. You will note that there are a few different chromakey effects available.

You may find that you can get better keying results with the Ultra Key effect. All in all, it will take a bit of time and tweaking to get the perfect chroma keying result. Probably the most important part in all this process is however the quality of the recorded footage. Light is essential, both on the subject and on the background. The background should be evenly lit right across the frame. If you have the option of recording in interlaced or progressive, then choose progressive as this will capture full frames rather than half frames in the case of interlaced, added to that make sure you record at as high a bit rate as you can. At the end of the day if you have captured footage that is well lit, progressive and at a good resolution then the process of chromakeying should be just a matter of a few clicks and your done.

Get into Storyboards

Storyboards are an essential part of the pre-production process, helping to get the ideas and concepts envisioned in a script fleshed out in a more intuitive and visual way. The following are a few videos highlighting the story-boarding process.

I very much like the use made of storyboards in the video clip below – a behind the scenes look at the making of Star Wars Episode I the Phantom Menace. Between roughly 01:00 and 02:00 one can readily get a sense for the shear number of shots required for the film and a very good sense of what elements within the shot will be real and not-so-real. The quick run through by George Lucas with just a few coloured highlighters readily helps to give a sense of the shear scale of the task ahead.

One way perhaps to start thinking about storyboarding is to look at a short clip and storyboard it out, by doing something like this you can quickly get a sense for a number of different shot types that are regularly used, some appreciation for the timing / pace of each shot and some sense of the camera movements involved. The video below is a trailer of Harry Potter and the Half Prince Blood, how many distinct scenes / shot types and camera moves can you count and identify?

If you haven’t sketched or made a storyboard before then some pointers may be useful, the following videos give some hints and tips. The final video below shows some scenes and the corrosponding storyboards from the 1976 film Taxi Driver.

Rubin’s Tube the Physics of Sound / Music

The following are a few videos showing the Rubin’s Tube experiment, where one can readily see the standing waveform of a sound. You will see in the videos below that the Mythbusters have a go at creating this experiment, whilst some others play music from Queen and Europe.

Treknology – Are we there yet?

At present in the early part of the second decade of the 21st century we have now become heavily dependent on technology. The rate of technological advancement in the past fifty years alone has been incredible, particularly since in development of the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 in 1971. Since the first incarnation of Star Trek in the 1960’s audiences have been amazed by the technological wonders that seems to be available in the 23rd &   24th centuries. What’s more amazing however is the fact that many of these technologies are now a reality and yet we are still in the infancy of the 21st century. If the advancement of technology continues to increase at its present rate then it is almost impossible to imagine what the world will be like in fifty or even a hundred years, never mind what it may be like in a few centuries.

Tractor Beam Technology
Recent weeks have seen some interesting technological advances. Just a few days ago (25th January 2013) it was announced that a Star Trek “style tractor beam” had been developed by scientists, the project being led by researchers from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This work makes use of lasers to attract microscopic particles. A simple example of a Star Trek tractor beam in operation on a small-scale can be seen in the S1E3 Episode “The Naked Now”, where Wesley Crusher develops his own “hand held” tractor beam capable of moving furniture and other small objects. In the very same episode he scales up and “reverses fields” on the Enterprises Tractor Beam to help give it a push-off from another starship thereby saving it from being destroyed from an oncoming star fragment.

 Organic Data Storage
Just a few days earlier (23rd Jaunary 2013) a BBC News story discussed another development in Nature showing that DNA would be “perfect for digital storage”. A selection of media types were encoded within the DNA including an image, text and audio. All were read back with 100% accuracy. The article states that “One gram of DNA ought to be able to hold about two petabytes of data”. DNA is also a great way to archive data capable of reliably storing information for a much longer period that any technologies we currently have such as hard disks or CDs/DVD’s.

In Star Trek of course we often hear the term “Isolinear Chip” being used, capable of storing 2.15 kiloquads of information. In terms of the use or organics within Star Trek the one thing that immediately comes to mind are the Bioneural Gelpacks featured on the USS Voyager.  One disadvantage with the organic nature of the Bioneural Gelpacks was their susceptibility to bacteria and viruses. On the positive side they were able to make a “best guess” rather than computing the solution in a more linear manner.

Transparent Aluminium
I am sure you are all well aware of Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, particularly of the scene where Scotty divulges the formula for transparent Aluminium to a scientist in the 20th century. The interesting thing of course is that a material with very similar properties has already been developed (see this article dated 12 Jan 2012). The material is called Aluminium Oxynitride or ALON & is capable of maintaining structural integrity in temperatures up to 1200 degrees C.

 Touch Screen Technology
Touch Screens have become very much the norm and are standard on all smartphones of today. I am sure that everybody thought the touch screen consoles in Main Engineering of the Enterprise NCC1701-D shown in the mid to late 1980’s were really amazing.

 If you were lucky enough to have attended CES 2013 in Las Vegas they you would have probably seen Panasonic’s 20inch 4K Tablet PC, so certainly table top computing is well on the way.

 Another nice example of table top computing is the Microsoft/Samsung SUR 40 capable of sensing up to 52 concurrent touches. Quite appropriately in the vein of Star Trek and exploring the University the application demonstrated in the video below is called NUIverse that allows one to explore the likes of our solar system and star constellations.

 More Science Investment in the News
A BBC News Article dated 28th Jan 2013 discusses the investment of two billion euro into two research projects. The Human Brain project will seek to develop a computer-based copy of the human brain allowing scientists to understand neurogical disorders and the effects of drugs. The second project will look at the use of Graphene – a material with amazing properties such as being stronger than steel and having conductivity better than copper. The “Possibilities” to quote Spock are seemingly limited only by our imagination.

Some other recent developments of interest includes the news of Intel investing four billion USD to build a 14nm chip manufacturing plan in Ireland helping to keep Moore’s Law going strong.

Has Film/TV Influenced Technology?
This post is of course not an exhaustive list of Star Trek type technologies that are currently in existance. I am sure you can think of many more exampes. An interesting question to pose is –  has the technology we have seen in film influenced the evolution of actual technology? Certainly every single time I see a Tablet Computer of today I think of the PADD from Star Trek, and similarly with Mobile Phones becoming almost akin to Tricorders with the ever increasing computing and sensory systems that are now onboard.

 So are we there yet?
To Answer my Initial question – Are we there yet? Well certainly from the examples mentioned above it looks like we have already developed many of the technologies that mesmerised us for so many years in the Star Trek TV shows and movies. Perhaps the Final Frontier is closer than we think!

If you would like to find out about some more technologies then you may enjoy watching the documentary below.

What is Multimedia? A 21st Century Viewpoint

One of the courses / subjects / modules I lecture on focuses on Interactive Multimedia taken by around a hundred or so third year students. Each year the very first slide I present asks the question “What is Multimedia?”. Given that classes for the second semester will commence once again next week I thought of asking this question to all those out their within the blogosphere to see what you regard multimedia to be. The word cloud (created using this generator) below is perhaps one simple example of multimedia in action where by one can provide a list of words resulting in an image being generated based on the frequency of those works. Perhaps if I received a good few comments I could create an updated word cloud that better reflects what “Multimedia” is today!


The classical definition would be something along the lines that multimedia combines a mixture of content such as text, images, video, audio, animation and interactivity. Has the definition for what multimedia is changed? given that we are now living in a world where technology is ubiquitous.

What about Smart Televisions? Televisions used to be very much a passive from of information transmission focused on the visual and auditory senses. Smart Televisions of today can be controlled by gestures, the media that is accessible is no longer just a broadcast that you must tune into, but can now put the user in control with on demand content and online interactive media. If you want you can even control it using your smartphone along with other things such as the lights and heating throughout your home. Its probably safe to say that we are living in the age of “the App” in that for more or less anything you can think of their is an “App” out their in cyberspace just waiting for you to download.

The video below is of the LG booth at CES 2013, featuring built in cameras for gesture control and microphones to enable voice commands. It will also recommend TV shows and movies based on your viewing habits. Many people have full HD televisions at present 1920 x 1080 (2K), but we have seen in recent times 4K resolution TV’s becoming available to the consumer (though they do have a price tag of 20K+). Higher resolution TV’s – such as 8K are also in existence such as the Sharp 8K TV demoed at CES 2013.

Speaking of television / film what about the world of 3D such as Plano-sterioscopic Imaging or even the IMAX experience. My most recent experience of an IMAX screening was seeing The Hobbit at Cineworld Dublin just a few weeks ago. It was great seeing the film for a second time, but even better seeing it on a much larger sized screen than what you would usually find at a cinema. By far the best IMAX experience in my opinion was that of the BFI IMAX just around the corner from Waterloo station in London due to the spherical shaped screen and SPL of the speaker system.

As you all probably know The Hobbit was recorded using 5K Red Epic Cameras mounted in pairs on a set of rigs (to capture the 3D effect for the left & right eye), allowing one to change the interocular and convergence on the fly during the shoot. The recorded frame rate of 48fps has been the standard in IMAX since the format came out (it still of course falls short of the refresh rate of the human eye). One issue of course is that the sets had to be over saturated for the recorded footage to have the correct colour grading. The footage of course was all captured digitally and written on to 128GB Cards.

Our smartphones now make extensive use of touch screen technology as well as voice and facial recognition. The current year will see our mobiles evolve to having flexible screens, ushering in a new era in mobile and content interaction.

Multimedia of course isn’t just limited to something being on a computer screen, what about the blending of lasers such a light harp and midi technology, see the example below of Jean Michel Jarre playing the Second Rendez-Vous.

Is the term Multimedia used too much? especially as so many of our devices allow us to consume various forms of media and interact with same in a myriad of ways. Not too long ago the use of a number of different forms of media was seen to be something new and novel, now however it seems that whether its our TV’s, mobiles, tablets, computers or even our cars we are consuming and interacting in ways which a few decades ago would have been science fiction. Will we all be connected with devices similar to Google Glasses within a few years?

What about Books? Are books those strange typically rectangular objects made from trees that contain words printed double sided nearing the end of their lifespans. eBook readers are becoming ever more popular. If you take a look at this article dated 14th Jan 2013 you will see that libraries are now starting to throw out their “books” and go for an all digital system. Are the days of carrying a school bag to school stuffed with as many books as you could squeeze in numbered? Schools are even getting rid of their books with some purchasing iPads for every student (such as the Essa Academy with 840 pupils).

Has the future already arrived? In the mid to late 1980’s & 90’s we saw PADD’s being extensively used in both Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Is Multimedia still a term that has meaning in this day and age where it seems that more or less every device we use has a number forms of media and means of interaction.