News: Z-Net I Project Status Update

Friday, August 31, 2012

I've recently been working on ZNI some again. Sadly, there's still a severe lack of feedback on its more major bugs, so I'm still left in the situation were I won't work on anything new on the project until I've fixed the major issues. This is part why I lost interest in the project, and haven't done anything with it in a few months.

I slightly adjusted my stance on working on it, and begone working on it again only to cover some weak spots in it and zbattles design. Mostly related to make moderating the program easier/cleaner. And doing so within the bounds of retaining backwards compatibility with v0.5.3.1 while also not moving it to far away from the zbattle design.

The changes are almost all behind the scenes, so I won't go into anything. Few users should care outside of knowing the fact that I am still willing to work on the project. It's just lack of user feedback and other community aspects that are keeping me from doing so. And I very much want to add all the new features users want and bring it beyond a zbattle clone. I'm just holding firm to the belief that whats broken now needs to be fixed before adding anything new that might end up broken.

I'm hoping to release the next version sometime soon, even without all the bug fixes I used to want in it. But I don't have a real timetable yet. It will need to see some private beta testing first.

The only other news about Z-Net is already known by most that actively use the program or visit the website. But I guess I can talk about it here for the few that don't. The problem facing ZNI with a lack of mods, and abundance of users who disregard the rules finally reached it's boiling point, and regrettably I've felt forced to make the drastic step of restricting use of ZNI to only times at which a ZNI mod is connected. This helped coax 2 users to apply to be mods, but ZNI still needs several more to help ensure it both up at all and well moderated anywhere close to 24 hours a day. Right now I do what I can still to make sure its up during the hours of the evening (PST), but I can't always cover those hours myself.

So with that in mind, please do your part if you can and apply to help moderated and grow the health of the community and project.

UFC May Have Finally Jumped The Shark

Friday, August 24, 2012

I'm a MMA fan. I've thought about posting about it in the past, but ended up not doing so due to it being to much in contrast of the other posts I had going on. Now that I'm trying to expand the content on my blog it would seem to be a good time. And regrettably, this is what I have to post about.

It was announced in these past couple days that, for the first time ever, the UFC has completely canceled an event. One that was even scheduled to happen just 8 days later. "Why?" you may ask.

Well, a lot of things factor into it, but in the short of it, because it's Light Heavyweight Champion bitched out. What I mean is, while I don't think he was scared to fight the challenger put in front of him, he declined the fight based on his ego, money, etc. Sure his head trainer could be shouldering the blame instead of him due to the advice he gave to him, but in the end it's up to the fighter to take a fight or not. And he didn't.

A short while ago, Jon Jones himself was in the opposite position of a similar situation. Coming in on short notice to challenge the Champ. Back then he seemed to be the next big deal. A great up and coming role model for the sport. A hungry, competitive fighter that people could appreciate. One that cares more about putting on a good show or challenging himself, more then how much money he's getting, how it effects his endorsement deals, a legacy based on winning, or other such things.

That all changed once he got the gold belt. Fan's started seeing through his phony persona. And despite continuing to win with impressive performances, his stock in fans eye just didn't go up. Instead maybe down. He seemed to poorly fight it for awhile, but recently it seems he has just given up and is now starting to show himself for the person he truly is, one even worse then we thought was poorly hiding behind that mask.

I'm only going to speak from my perspective as a fan and how I view it effecting me. Other fighters, promoters, sponsors and other people effected by his actions have or can speak for themselves elsewhere. As a fan, I find his actions embarrassing. I'm a pure MMA fan. I've cared little to nothing for every other sport. MMA was something special, and devoid of all the bad aspects plaguing other sports. I've been proud to admit I'm an MMA fan, and tell people whats great about it and why they should watch. For all the pure fighters that show their heart in the cage, are hungry for competition no matter where they rank on the ladder. UFC has had its issues in the past year or two, of which I'll go more into later. But seeing a guy like this just brings to MMA what is one of the worst aspects of boxing, something that is why MMA outshines boxing in the way it does now.

I titled this post about UFC jumping the shark. And what I more fully mean is that in recent years the UFC has digressed into exactly what I hated about other sports. UFC and MMA in general used to have the most intelligent fans, which also is why I was proud to say I was one. Many UFC fans both quickly learn all the technical details that went into a fight to be able to enjoy it, and they saw past the regional BS mindset of "I like this guy the most because he from somewhere close to where I live!", and instead were fans of someone purely because that guy had skill, was a hard worker, a great heart as a fighter, or was because he was a entertainer.

Well, those days are gone. The sport has been heading in a direction that completely endorses such limited mindsets. I find it embarrassing to hear the chants of "USA", just as much as I find it disgusting to hear the cheers and boos in the way in which that happen in Brazil events. It's just sad to see a sport that was once so great, going this direction.

Maybe it isn't to late. There's a possibility of salvaging the dignity of the sport. I hope it happens. But as it looks now, the talent on fight cards has been stretched to thin, egos and money are starting to drive fighters, fan intelligence is at a all time low, and ticket and PPV prices are to high and seem to be going up. It's going to be hard to fix all of that.


Another Up-Coming Big Leap

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This is somewhat of a follow up to my last post on the Oculus Rift HMD/VR Headset. While that is a piece of hardware set to change the way we see/play games, what I'm going to talk about now is more about software.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn't like the look of games on PS1 and other consoles in that era. The best looking games were only games that just didn't look particularly bad. This was due to 3D being done using polygons which lacked the advancements done since then to make them less jagged, richer in color, and just plain have more of them to make things look less blocky. While back then I just didn't find many games particularly appealing, looking back at those games now, some look down right hideous.

But polygons were all we really had. If you don't know, polygons are, simply put, triangles or deformed rectangles. 3-4 points get specified, then a picture gets placed in between those points to create whatever is desired to be seen. Either a piece of terrain, maybe a piece of clothes or skin, etc. As game tech has evolved more and more polygons can be placed on a screen at a time, and this makes things look smoother and all around better like we see from games today.

Despite that, even in games today, if you look closely at a game you can see the polygons. While games may get better and better looking, polygons are always going to be limiting games from achieving that perfect realistic look the future of the game industry should be striving for. But it is the best of the worst possible ways to do 3D, so were stuck with it.

Things like voxels have existed for awhile. If you've played MineCraft, you've seen voxels. While it's a very good game, visually it looks like crap compared to other modern games. It doesn't look like that purely for its personal artistic uniqueness or anything. It looks like a N64 game because of the limits of voxels. It just takes more data being processed at a time to display voxels. The real world is made of atoms, so ideally to replicate that in a game you would want to do something comparable. Voxels would fit that. But as they are now, they will always be behind polygons in when it comes to pleasant graphics. I say "as they are now", because someone could rethink the technology and cause a great leap forward. And that just may have been done.

Enter a new small company called Euclideon. This group has caused a bit of controversy after releasing a couple YouTube videos about a year apart and remaining silent in between. They made enormous claims that if true would turn the graphics industry on its head, and with such claims the silence rightfully seems very shady to a lot of people. To this day they could be orchestrating a hoax. We honestly don't know until they reveal more or release playable demos. To me though, they seem legit, and I can't wait to see more.

Getting to the point, what they have claimed is to be able to render games in unlimited detail using atom based graphics. To break it down more, while they claim it isn't voxels, the tech their claiming to use is at the least very similar or just an evolution of voxels that was needed. Its called Point Cloud data. They render worlds by the atom, each far smaller then seen in MineCraft, with more density and at very usable speeds. If they can truly do this, worlds will look amazing. Graphics artists will no longer have their hands tied behind their back. Simply, 3D games will look like we always wanted them to. If the same tech can be applied to character models, our games would look like those amazing cut scenes videos and trailers for games that for me, always lead to a huge let down once I get into the game and see it looks little to nothing like that quality.

Without further ado, watch this video for yourself.

For the disbelievers the video below is more interesting, but much longer. It's a interview with the project head, and in it you get to see their demo played in real time as best as it can be proved at this point. At the very least, when you watch this video you should begin to think "This is a AWFUL lot of work for a hoax if it is one!", which to me means its chance of being one is very low. The only other reason to go to this extent is for scamming money out of investors, of which they claim they don't need any. If their privately taking behind the scenes funding, we will never know. Still, I'm choosing to believe in it for now.

If true, what this will mean is that $500 graphics card you have right now is almost worthless as it would be little to no different then a $50 one. This Point Cloud rendering is all done on the CPU, not the GPU, or so they claim. Now in the future, GFX cards could very well be redesigned to take some of the load and increase performance, but we wouldn't see that right away. If developing a game for this is just as easy as it is with polygons, then this should get adopted quickly and NVIDIA and ATI should be struggling to adapt for a little while.

That's the only bad with this, but even then things could go differently. There could be a marriage between the 2 techs, and for example, polygons could still be used for character models. For all I know, doing such a thing could cause character models polygon counts to be safely increased much higher. Things like lighting, shadows, etc, could all still be handled by current GFX hardware.

Also of note. This is a graphics engine, similar to the Unreal engine series most of us know about. This means that the possibility of seeing this on consoles is fairly good. If we do, there should really be little difference in the 3 major consoles if their games are being created using such an engine. People will further realize that things like innovation and features matter more. And thankfully, this favors my favorite brand as Nintendo is the only one that really tries to innovate.

Below is a video from another site showcasing some of whats been done since then. At first when looking at the preview still, it seems like a pic of the real world. It is however a real time rendered 3D environment. It's fairly obvious once the video starts playing, even it you didn't see into the emptiness of infinity at some points. But its still massively better then the environments being rendered right now with polygons! But with such a small environment size, it's still not likely the definitive proof that hopeful skeptics would like to see.

Read the full story here 

What we need to see next, besides them obviously just finishing their tech and putting it into the hands of game devs, is a downloadable demo or acknowledgement from undeniably credible names in the gaming industry. The latter being maybe similar to John Carmack lending his name and face along side of the Oculus Rift. I'd like to see this just to get past all the negativity surrounding this project. Its such a huge step for gaming that it just needs to have all the most legitimate claims to it being fake squashed, so things could move forward with it getting the proper attention it deserves. With a demo, well, that would be even more significant as long as they didn't impose tons of limits on it. But it would also be dangerous for them as company. Once any code is out, they risk people reverse engineering their code. This could create competition to soon, and effect things negatively in other ways. 

Next we also need to see this rendering animation. Real time animation requires a significant amount of CPU power, and that requirement grows with the more data you have to keep rendering as the animations continues. Animation has been a huge concern to a lot of skeptics because of knowing that. Thus far the only animation shown by Euclideon is with a old very crude version of the engine, and that just says little for the engine at this state. Animation is most important for models, which as I said could possibly still be rendered with polygons, but scenery has is own animation as well, or at least it should.

Another concern about this is its memory footprint. Rendering worlds by the atom should require a LOT of data to do it properly. In the demo, this issue could seem to have been short cut by the reuse of a smaller list of objects. But when it comes to a full game level or seamless world, such reuse of a limited number of objects and terrain isn't going to cut it.

This company could have something very special, but so far has given its fans little, and critics plenty. It's now been over a year since their last official update. Not only is it about time for a new update, but starting from that update, the secrecy and shadiness needs to end. Some may see it as they don't owe us anything. I beg to differ some, and here's why. Were all sitting on the edge of a major breakthrough in gaming graphics, and as I mentioned this is all done in software. Think about all the people that may drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on new GFX hardware, just to find out that this is going to hit and make that hardware no more useful then say an old and otherwise outdated card. Personally, I'm not investing in a new card until I know more about this engine, and its been this way since I first heard about it. So this leaves me completely hanging until I hear a real time frame.

Whatever happens, if this proves real and to lives up to Euclideon's claims, were all in for a real treat. Both this and the Oculous Rift could be in full swing in the next couple years, and while one of them is a massive change to the way we see/play games, both together is simply mind boggling.

My hopes are high. I cant wait to see how things develop, or to get my hands on both projects.

The Next Big Leap For Gaming

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

It's been a while since I've posted. I got to fixated on this being a portal for my Z-Net I project and lost sight of it being more of a generalized content blog. Now I'm going to take another step towards that goal and talk about a new piece of hardware being developed that I think most of you would find interesting.

A lot of us probably grew up thinking the future of gaming was going to be about immerse 3D experiences, either through a Holodeck like seen in Star Trek or through a Virtual Reality headset (HMD) like seen in countless movies and T.V. shows. More so the latter as growing up in the 80's - 90's with all this teasing shown, I expected that to be anytime now. When the Virtual Boy was released, well, it was disappointing. But it was still at least a step forward. It still made me feel like the next step was right around the corner. Sadly, I had to wait many years for the VR blip to appear on my radar. And that was the Nintendo On. If you don't remember this piece of gaming controversy history, it was a well put together demo/teaser video about the next Nintendo console after the GameCube. The console was featured to finally be the first true attempt at a real HMD that we all were waiting for. The way this video was released made it seem shady, and while my expectations weren't up, my hopes defiantly were. It obviously proved fake as the next console turned out to be the Wii and was nothing like it.

Since then the HMD tech world has been silent with nothing new and significant coming forward. For years now there has been HMD's, but most are priced into the obscene and no where near affordable to the average gamer. And of course the cheaper and closer they are to being affordable, the worse they are. And sadly, it seemed like no one was even trying to bring this tech to us.

The major limitation preventing progress in this market was the display units themselves. Developing a couple small screens to sit in front of your eyes with a resolution you could find remotely enjoyable with anything close to modern games, was hard. And at a affordable cost was essentially impossible. While that was the single biggest issue preventing any development at all, there was another. To get a true immersive experience the head movement of the character in game needed to be synced with your own. Since the Wii, the tech needed for this existed in the form of motion sensors. Such sensors for a headset need to have extremely low latency in order to properly fool the brain enough for you to have a quality experience. If your not convinced at the need for such motion sensors, I suggest you look into an experiment by a guy named Johnny Chung Lee. When the Wii first came out he started using the WiiMote in other ways, one of which reversed the positions of the remote and the led sensor bar to a degree. You make a set of sensor bar glasses or just put the normal one on your forehead and put the remote on top of your monitor, load his program, and start moving your head around. The 3D effect is quiet cool even though its so fixed to a screen. If you have a WiiMote, a bluetooth adapter and a little time I suggest you try it out. Or at least check out this video.

Anyway, the tech for such VR devices evolved little over the years. And despite the recent advances with smart phone displays, no one has truly married the screen tech with HMD's, until now. Yes, now there is a a new HMD in development! And whats better it is being made with the backing of some of the biggest names in "First Person" game development. This one has the cred to succeed! It's field of view is good, it's latency is low, and its resolution is currently around 720p for the development model, with 1080p expected for the consumer version. All with a final price in the consumer range. The dev models currently cost around $275-$300, and hopefully the consumer versions will as well. I think that's the perfect price, as anything more would just be to much for a display, and would just limit it to a smaller pool of the gamer population.

This HMD is called Oculus Rift. And right now it in a phase putting kickstarter to use. As you will see, the demand for such tech is huge. It's currently sitting at almost 6 times the funds of its original goal. Now I urge you to understand what your getting if you were to put forward the $275-$300 for one of these units right now. These are dev units, not consumer models. If you were to buy one, you would effectively be buying one for a single game (Doom 3 BFG). And the dev models will likely have less capabilities then the consumer ones, like less resolution, no sound, no wireless, etc. While I'm certainly eager to get my hands on one, even if I had the money to idly throw at getting one, I most likely wouldn't and instead save it for the better/consumer model.

Oculus Rift KickStarter

Also you can watch a keynote with the devs backing this here. It's an hour long, but it helps convey the legitimacy on this project, and helps build confidence that it will come to completion.

Anything can happen. But I'm excited to finally see this step being taken for gaming. Since the step away from the 16-bit era, I personally have felt that 3D has mostly been crap. It was ugly on the PS1 which is a huge part of why I never bought it. It was done well enough on a few N64 Classics, but poorly on many others. Since those eras the marriage between graphics and gameplay has gone askew, with to much of a focus on graphics that just don't deliver anything to me. With consoles since then, I've just been buying Nintendo consoles for continuing to play my favorite franchises that always deliver on gameplay, and staying away from the over-rated graphics focused ones that just output generic FPS after generic FPS.

With this new leap coming, hopefully I can start enjoying modern games again, as the 3D should now be living up to its capabilities more. This still isn't everything to make a good all around enjoyable 3D experience, but there are other advancements being taken out there that I will post about later.

I hope you enjoy the excitement as much as I am!