Tag Archives | Graphics

Comic-Con: Dave Gibbons’ Digital Cartooning

I attended my first San Diego Comic-Con in 1988. Back then, it was a show about…comics! Mostly, at least. Today, it’s a show about comics, movies, TV, toys, science fiction, videogames, and a bunch of other topics…and it’s hard to walk for more than a few yards across the insanely crowded exhibition floor without bumping into someone dressed as Bart Simpson, Darth Vader, a Smurf, Poison Ivy, or (most often) the Joker.

There’s also some tech here–especially tech relating to drawing, painting, and animating. At the booth of graphics software maker Smith Micro,  I chatted with cartooning legend Dave Gibbons, who’s best known as the co-creator of Watchmen. He knows pencils and brushes as well as any cartoonist alive, but he uses Smith’s Manga Studio package–which, despite the name, is for drawing comics of all sorts.

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5Words: Nvidia’s Graphics Technology Permits Switching

Nvidia’s new switchable graphics technology.

Windows 7 battery problem? Nope.

Droid gets Android 2.1 update.

Redact that tweet, Journal editor.

iPhone gets memory card adapter.

What’s Shigeru Miyamoto working on?

Nexus one feature: phone support!

Nexus One double-life battery.

Publishers score e-book pricing victories.

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Your Questions, AMD’s Answers

Technologizer;s Q&A[A NOTE FROM HARRY: Here’s the inaugural edition of a new feature: Technologizer Q&A. We’ll give you the opportunity to pose questions to interesting technology companies. First up is chipmaker AMD–many thanks to VP of Advanced Marketing Pat Moorhead for answering these queries.

Got nominations for other companies you’d like answers from? Let me know–I’m lining up subjects for future installments.]

Fernando Garcia asks:

I have always asked the following question. Why is it that AMD will not step up advertising? A good 70% of the consumer public,still does not know what AMD is. I used to work for Best Buy and on the average day, one out of eight persons I would speak to knew what AMD was. Whenever I asked a customer  about processors automatically they would say Intel.

Pat answers:

Simply taking out more advertising does not guarantee a product’s success. I think the best way to answer that is AMD chooses to focus differently. We first focus on making our customers and their channel partners successful by investing in them, not leveraging off their brandsby sandwiching them between AMD logos. We want to invest in our customers’ success. For those people who are specifically focused on the “processor,” we have very high awareness and market directly to end user groups. These include but are not limited to enthusiasts, gamers, DIYers, Fortune 1000 and government decision makers, etc.

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Big Hair’s a No-Go In Video Games

ufc-guidaEver notice how your favorite video game characters wear close-cropped ‘dos, shave their heads, tie their locks back in a ponytail or just wear head dressings? They may be doing it for style, but they’re also conveniently hiding the difficulties of rendering lifelike video game hair.

This isn’t a new revelation, but the issue came to light again this week when Fight! Magazine learned about the exclusion of big hair in an Ultimate Fighting Championship video game. Fighter Clay “The Carpenter” Guida’s hairdo is so massive that the developers of THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2009 had to exclude him due to clipping and collision detection issues. Reportedly, THQ even offered Guida money to cut his hair, and he refused.

Earlier this week, I wrote about photorealism in games, and how one developer thinks video games could accurately depict thousands of facial bones in 10 to 15 years. But what about the tens of thousands of hair strands that adorn human heads? Apparently, gaming is pretty far off from nailing the art of beautiful, flowing locks.

For fun, here are a few other facts about video game hair:

  • Mario, famously, sports a cap because designer Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t like creating hairstyles and wanted to save his programmers the trouble of animating the hair during jumps.
  • Electronic Arts’ chief visual officer, Glenn Entis, said in 2005 that hair and facial expressions would be a focus of graphics in the HD gaming era, calling hair “such a communicator of style” and referring to past efforts as “laughable.”
  • Even the latest graphical advances simulate less than a couple hundred strands of hair. A real human could shed that amount in a day.

Who Needs Photorealism in Games, Anyway?

uncanny_valleyJust in case the haunting wastelands of Killzone 2 and Gears of War 2 aren’t realistic enough for you, one game engine programmer suspects that true photorealism in video games is 10 to 15 years away.

I say, who cares?

To understand why, read the rest of Unreal Engine programmer Tim Sweeney’s comments to Gamasutra: “But there’s another problem in graphics that’s not as easily solvable,” he said. “It’s anything that requires simulating human intelligence or behavior: animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters. They’re really cheesy in games now.”

To put it another way, we may someday have video game people that look a lot like the real thing in pictures, but making them seem lifelike in practice is another story entirely.

That’s why video games are better off experimenting with other methods of representation besides mimicking reality. (Sports games should get a pass, however, because they are inherently in pursuit of realism. Plus, they tend to avoid issues of interaction and conversation that other games must deal with.)

When I think of the most powerful examples of human emotion in video games, they’re almost always abstract. The pixelated characters in Daniel Benmergui’s Storyteller are excellent examples: The eyes struck a deeper chord with me than any attempt at bone modeling.

Another method is cel-shading, as in the cartoon style seen in games like Team Fortress 2 and No More Heroes. Just like pixelation, cel-shading symbolizes human gestures without dipping into the uncanny valley (that is, the negative response that occurs when a human facsimile looks too much, but not exactly, like the real thing).

I’m certainly not the first one to make this argument, but it’s worth repeating if game developers plan to chase photorealism. I fear that the mountain is so steep to climb, we may have to endure a lot of freaky fake people before getting to the good stuff. As Sweeney suggests, the real problems may take a lot longer than a decade to solve, and10 years is already a long time.


Nvidia Might Get Into the x86 Business

Nvidia LogoIt’s more than a rumor but less than a fact: Nvidia is apparently considering branching out from its core business of making graphics processors to make system-on-a-chip products that combine a CPU and a GPU on a single chip at some point in the next few years, putting it in the most direct competition imaginable with Intel. The theory–and it certainly sounds plausible–is that SoC designs that pack both a powerful CPU and a powerful GPU will come to dominate the market, leaving a graphics specialist such as Nvidia in a tight spot.

Plenty of companies have tried to compete with Intel over the years; nearly all of them have failed, leaving only AMD and VIA (the latter of which specializes in basic chips for basic devices) still in the game. As a consumer, I love competition, so I hope Nvidia goes for it. Anything that gives Intel reason to be paranoid should help Moore’s Law work its magic of more potent technology at better prices. And if any tech outfit has the combination of ambition, tech chops, and craziness to dive in at this point, it’s probably Nvidia.

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Atari’s 1984 Touch Tablet: A Retro-Unboxing

Atari Touch Tablet

The next time you use your shiny new Wacom tablet and Adobe Photoshop CS4, think back to a time before time–a time before blends, morphs, heal brushes, and 10-megapixel images.  A time like 1984, which, for computer graphics, was darker than the Dark Ages. It was a time when you could buy an $89.95 Atari CX77 Touch Tablet for your Atari 8-bit home computer.  Luckily, I bought mine for considerably less last year, although it was still in new, unopened condition.  Safely sequestered in the official Vintage Computing and Gaming computer lab, I recently began the task of unpacking the antique peripheral and documenting the process.  Here’s an account of the experience.