A Note of Intent

Aaargh.

I decided I wasn’t going to bother posting another update here until I’d settled back into uni and sunken my teeth into some fresh projects I could write about. I suddenly find myself almost two-months into the final year of my degree and I’ve been rather too busy to give it a second thought.

So here’s a note of intent: I will, sooner or later, make a proper post about this semester’s projects, before the semester is concluded, including my dissertation project, which was signed off by my supervisor last week and is now awaiting my full attention…after two more urgent deadlines. For now, I’ll just leave a brief list of what I’m currently working on:

1. An essay on the sufficiency of services provided by modern operating systems for accessing detailed information about gaming peripherals [due two weeks from now – yikes!].

2. A Unity game about parkour and painting. Think Jet Set Radio meets Mirror’s Edge meets Tony Hawks Underground. This is a team project with three other programmers from my course, and seven artists from the University of Derby’s Computer Games Modelling and Animation course [due sometime around the end of the semester].

3. For my dissertation project I am to be investigating the posibility of applying various AI techniques to the board/card game The Resistance. This may include search trees and evolutionary techniques, and I will be using the competition framework and bots provided by AiGameDev.com last year.

These are the things I’ll be posting about and/or creating new pages for here when I get chance. All the other stuff I do I’ll likely post about elsewhere if I even have the time to continue doing things other than eat, sleep, and code.

I cook some nowadays, and bake a little; I still study Korean, and I’m trying to snatch back the graphic design and art skills I used to have. But I’d like to keep this blog focussed more on programming, and the larger projects I undertake.

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Three Weeks Freedom

Lectures an tutorials are of course important, but it has to be said that the journey to and from the university, and their inflexible schedules are rarely convenient things. More and more of late I’m finding I’d rather be off investigating things for myself than being forced down particular avenues. I’d love, for instance, to be looking into WebGL and x86 assembly right now, having greatly enjoyed the time I spent with MIPS last semester. Meanwhile, I feel that modules like Team Software Development have long since served their purpose in teaching me in the value of effective teamwork strategies, and now now do nothing but eat into my time. It was with great relief last weekend that I entered the start of a three-week break from such activities.

Three weeks to get well ahead with my assignments, three weeks to get some more job applications off, three weeks to resume my studies of the Korean language, three weeks to look into WebGL or x86 assembly, three weeks to properly maintain my online presence or pursue my artistic interests. So many choices.

One week of that time has already elapsed, and I elected to spend it in the labs, where the PSP dev kits are, working on an optimized, billboarded, particle system for our Console Development 2 assignment. This is the module I’ve enjoyed the most this semester, and the module within which I feel that I have learned the most. Which of these is resultant of the other? Well, personally I think that it’s reciprocal. I’ve not only learned about PSP specific programming and optimization, but also finally found the opportunity to gain an understanding of threading – it’s a lot simpler than it seems on the surface – and undertake a complicated project in straight C. I’ll explain more about this assignment when it’s all tied up.

Speaking of threading, this has also been a feature of my Operating Systems and Mobile Development modules. My OS assignment is pretty much complete, and of little interest – it’s a simple benchmark of communications between processes and threads using the Windows API, and I plan to clear up the written part in the coming week. As soon as my PSP work is done I’ll sort out the write up for that too, leaving me only three modules to worry about when I go back for the last three weeks of the semester.

My Mobile Development project is a 2D game for Android. I’ll make another post about this in the coming weeks, but for now know that it’s a simple points-orientated game about drilling, I’m using the incredible libGDX framework, and the game may someday see itself published if my friends at Pillowdrift decide to take it on once I’m gone.

By gone I mean off on placement at whatever company wants me. I’m still looking, and I’m not worried about the time yet – the deadline is the end of summer and I’m sure I’ll find something excellent. If you’ve found your way here via my CV, a belated welcome to you! I hope you’ll take a quick look at my work under the Projects tab. Anyhow, my housemates and another friend are setting up shop as an indie company next year, and while I wish them the best of luck, I’d rather siphon the experience of industry veterans and prove myself in the real working world. I’ve told them they can have my Mobile Development project, polish and publish it if they wish, so I’m trying to keep the project as tidy and flexible as possible.

Seems there’s only one module I’ve yet to talk about, and this one comes with pictures! No really, I’d happily put up pictures of my other projects but I don’t have access to everything since I’m at my parents’ place right now. Interactive 3D Graphics Programming has taken me through the pains and pleasures of shaders lately, including a brief expedition into PIX to determine the root of some HLSL failures. As best I can tell I now have per-pixel diffuse and specular ambient, directional, point and spot lights working, and a system in place for managing them, attaching them to nodes in a scene graph for transformation. I recently added a similar method for attaching cameras to nodes and now need to re-implement my controllable camera nodes. By re-implement, I mean replace with controllable transformation nodes and attach cameras to those. Specular lighting looks fantastic on my terrain, though the terrain itself is a little bumpy, and I probably should decrease it’s shininess value. The one thing that’s been bugging me with my framework for this project is my use of DirectX constant buffers. Currently I only allow for a single constant buffer per shader set, and all of it’s data is copied across every time something draws. A better, more efficient, more flexible system would be to have multiple constant buffers updated hierarchically in my scene graph. In this way lighting data and other items would only be copied across when they are actually changed, saving a significant amount of time. Implementation of this system is of course dependent on the impending deadline, and seems unlikely, as I also need to implement render targets, collisions, player physics, and a demo. Still, you don’t learn the pitfalls until you try things, and I’ll remember this for future projects.

Let’s wrap this up with some screenshots from my DirectX engine, DacquoiseX. The model of Princess Peach is an adaptation of retrotails‘s over on Google 3D Warehouse, and I intend to use it for my current PSP project, recreating a scene from the ice levels from Super Mario Brothers 2 in 3D, with peach standing on the back of a black whale, spurting watery-foamy-particle-goodness from it’s spout-hole. The demo for this project? Well, that’s gonna be a bit stranger…