Wednesday 28 April 2010

Assembly 2010 groups

So who else will be there? I'll give you a tongue-in-cheek list of the groups that will deliver a demo for the combined compo; together with the odds of actually making it to Hartwall arena!

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no inside information, bet at your own risk!

  • Farbrausch: Odds 1/6. This group is always the unknown factor. Anything can be expected! I believe that their big demo of the year was Rove, but then again with so many parallel projects that I'm sure are running at "the product" WHQ there may be another teutonic surprise around the corner.
  • Andromeda: Odds 1/8. They are cooking something. On the PC. I can smell it. And this time it's going to hurt. Problem is, they've never actually *been* to Assembly before so the odds are quite low, but you never know.
  • The black lotus: Odds 1/3. It has been a while since we last saw a demo from this most excellent group. Maybe they got too old for this or maybe they've been secretly waiving the spider-web for over 3 years now.
  • Plastic: Odds 1/12. Their unbeatable productions come on all sorts of platforms and maybe they will be lured by the official support of PS3.
  • Traction: Odds 5/6. Local group will grace our screens with more particles, glowing lines and lots of fireworks.
  • Pyrotech: Odds 1. Can they make it (almost) three in a row? Space-opera-shader-hell meets guitar boy demo *will* be there for sure.
  • SQNY, MFX and friends: Odds 5/6. I have high hopes for something magical this time, music-wise at least. Expect a "tempest inside your brain" performance.
  • Fairlight and friends: Just stay home.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Perfectly blue sky and the power of dreams

Over the past week the weather gods have blessed us with a beautiful sunshine: I woke up today at around 8.00am and just laid on my bed for an hour listening to the morning world.

The coming of summer has been painful to me for a number of years, always for the same reason, the beginning of the exam period: whether at school or university we all had to go through the laborious task of studying and worrying about the insignificant.

But the end of summer and the advent of autumn was sweeter still: anxiety was replaced by aspiration and hope for all the new, exciting stuff that the new season might bring.

And every October, back at the time when I was living in Greece, 15 years and more, I used to sit on our balcony and dream of my ultimate demo. And of Assembly, the Gathering, the Party; all the unknown, exotic places I may visit one day, and of other things that make the heart thump.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Alea iacta est

Looks like there is going to be a demo for Euskal 2010 as well as Assembly 2010. Yesterday I was experimenting with different ideas and found something that can evolve into a small, solid demo.

Euskal is a great party. If nothing else you get to visit the beautiful country of Spain and eat some of its delicacies (jamon ibericon - yam!). I'll keep you posted on our progress on project "euskal 2010" and hope to see you there!

Friday 16 April 2010

2007 and now

I was asked yesterday to explain in which way my new demo "engine" is better to work with than the previous one (the one used in, for example, Lifeforce). I have given some technical details in random posts in the past, but today I'm going to list all of the reasons that make demo-making a far more pleasant experience.

  • On a personal level I'm a happier person than I was in 2007. I have more free time ( it is easier now that my daughter is 3 years old, back then she was a newborn) and I'm completely satisfied with my job: my commuting time is less than 20 minutes door to door compared to almost one hour.
  • My colleagues in ASD (Amoivikos, iM and Ch3) have more free time. I believe Amusic and Leviathan too.
  • As expected, we have accumulated even more experience with demo-making: since Lifeforce we've made some alternative productions (such as Metamorphosis and Rupture) which tested the waters with the scene. The fact that the scene liked our direction gave us an extra boost of confidence.
  • Better equipment and hardware: I wrote all of lifeforce on a crappy 17 inches CRT monitor using a geForce 5600. I had to see things on a 400x300 pixels window. Now I have 2x 24'' monitors and a pair of geForces and ATIs. I run the demo in full resolution.
  • On a technical level: big change is moving from Cg to GLSL. It made my life so much easier as I have direct access to the OpenGL state machine.
  • Use of .obj files instead of .3ds. Now I don't have to ever run 3D studio again! textures and shaders are hardcoded in code rather than from inside the .3ds file: much faster.
  • Use of shader model 3.0 instead of 2.0: I use loops and conditionals to put a lot of the demo logic inside a big shader file. Rather than having one different shader per material I now have one shader for many materials that share some functionality.
  • Use of flexible buffer objects: a big step forward from using the inflexible pbuffers (in 2007).
  • Use of deferred shading to achieve effects such as SSAO. This means that I don't have to do any pre-baked lightmap ever again. So no more horrible Blender. All I need for modelling is Wings3D.
  • All this results in a much smaller package: Lifeforce had 12 distinct parts which were coded in separate .cpp files. Each file was around 3000 lines. So that was around 40 seconds per part and 75 lines of code per second. Ideally I want to maximize seconds per part (in order to make the demo more "tight", to rely on less camera/mood changes and things that can go wrong with transitions) and also minimize lines of code per second. Iconoclash stands, at the moment, at 120 seconds per part and 30 lines of code per second.
  • Compilation times for the project are also down to a couple of seconds (on my new and more powerful computer). I also have a way to reload shaders on the fly, so I can change shader code - press space - change again all in realtime without the need to recompile and run. It used to be the case that I had to re-ran the application once every 20-30 seconds. Now it may take 10 minutes before I have to make a change that requires a recompilation.
So that's what we've been doing over the past 3 years: making sure that producing demos stays a more and more pleasant experience.

Thursday 15 April 2010

News and future

I have been busy with work recently and also had a rough cold after coming back from my holidays, so I didn't do much work on "Iconoclash". It gave me some time to think of the next steps:

  • At the moment all of the demo has been finished - but where is the music? Apparently our musicians are working on it. I can then work on the "emotional synch" and fine tune details.
  • Iconoclash on ATIs ? yes. And it goes like stink on my 4850. I spent a lot of time optimizing this and that, and it shows.
  • Is there room for a *second* demo for this summer? I have been invited to visit Euskal 2010. That could be an idea, *if* I think of something small and interesting to make for the party. I'll keep you posted.
  • For the first time I can think of at least 3-4 demos to be made *after* iconoclash. It is very easy with my new platform. Ironically, this new platform is far more minimalistic than the previous one (lifeforce), but somehow allows me to do more with less work. Will these demos materialize? Time will tell.
Now I need to think of a good idea for a good summer demo.

Friday 9 April 2010

Breakpoint 2010 comments

Guess what my favourite thing is just after easter: to dissect all the recent productions from Breakpoint and the Gathering and see what is the level of competition out there. Don't take me wrong though: I enjoy all new demos for what they are - 4 minutes of audiovisual entertainment - but as a producer myself I need to know what and who is at the forefront of PC demo development.

So here are some random thoughts:

  • Pleased to see the return of satori with a demo that nobody else could reproduce. I am envious, in a good way, of Zden and I hope they make another one in the near future.
  • The farbrausch demo was interesting: in the first 20 seconds I was bracing for a "paradigm-shift" production that would leave me in complete awe (echoing the days of debris). It didn't follow my expectations (they were too high anyway) for a number of reasons. Mainly because of too much repetition, not much of a storyline and several design issues (typography being a major one). Regardless, the demo is clearly amongst the best 5 of this year (if not then it's going to be one hell of a year for PC demos).
  • The winner demo from the Gathering had almost everything that you would need in a 2010 killer production: top effect, graphics, timing with the music. Yet it is not destined for the pantheon. Why is that, you ask? This is an important question and I'll elaborate in another post, stay tuned!
  • I've expessed my admiration for the demo from Fairlight - rightful winner and a very hard demo to beat in any competition (including next year's scene org awards). "Less is more" worked really well and I'm looking forward to their next step using this technology or something similar.

For me the question was: what would happen if Iconoclash was presented at that party (assuming the music and a hundred different details left to finish were all there) ?
It would have been one hell of a compo (not that it was bad as it was): a class of two mammoth demos (ours and "rove") against the sweet delicacy from Fairlight.

...I have a fairly good idea of what would have happened to the final rankings; but I'm not going to tell you.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Back to England & awards

My 10-day long holidays in Greece have finished and me and my family returned home. It was fun while it lasted, even the weather was good enough for long visits to the beach. I always try to get some inspiration from the sea (its colors, living organisms and general ambience of the deep) and this time it was no exception.

On Saturday night we all sat to watch the awards on the live stream. I thought we were going to win a couple of awards (after all we did have 8 nominations, so, statistically speaking, it would be very bad luck to not get anything). Eventually we got 3! - my family was celebrating, I was more reserved with emotion. Congratulations to all winners!

It feels good to get an award - it is a recognition of your effort. For me it is one of the driving forces for making better demos and hopefully we'll be nominated next year too.

In case you missed, here are the videos I made with the help of Stella, my daughter:


Stella will be 3 years old in just a few days. She was born on the 9th of April 2007, when a demo that was going to affect me in more ways than any other demo had ever done was released: debris, at Breakpoint 2007 !