Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just Curious...

I'm wondering - does anyone else cackle, "Fly, my pretties!" when using Insect Swarm while playing the Bioshock games?


Monday, June 28, 2010


OK I know it's World Cup time and all, but since it's everywhere (even youtube has a button for it on some videos) I have to ask: Is someone trying to force Vuvuzelas into being the next big meme?


PS - Something else I'm wondering: My daughter just got a Dora the Explorer doll for her birthday but um... Dora seems to have sprouted boobs. Did I miss something?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Awwwww... it's PAISLEY!

Illustration Friday: Paisley.

All the weirdly cool people will get it, everyone else will wonder. :)


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

...or the ripples from a pebble someone's tossed into a stream...

Illustration Friday: Ripple. And yea, was it written that thou shalt click above to get a higher resolution.

It was suggested that because of the recent horror in the Gulf of Mexico, our Illustration Friday submissions coincide with the Ripple Blog. The Ripple Blog will sell the images as autographed sketch cards for a $10 donation to The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies or The International Bird Rescue Research Center.

OK, seriously, words fail me. I can't possibly form a coherent post about the greed that caused this, the idea that you can just ignore safety precautions and keep trying to insulate the bottom line by risking disaster, and when the world gets a giant schlong up its tuchus because of it, you can just hide behind an army of lawyers and lobbyists and whatever politicians you own.

This shit is seriously the last thing the world needed right now. Our economy was already in the toilet. Now the lives of all the people who make a living off the ocean in the gulf have been ruined even further: fishermen, the tourist industry, people who had stock in BP or it's employees... people who were struggling and fighting to make ends meet, and now the ends have just been yanked another mile apart.

How can I even begin to touch on what this has done to the wildlife - to the fish who breathe that water, to the birds who swim in it? I read an article that some ornithologists suggest it would be kinder just to euthanize these birds, as they may not survive even after cleaning. Seriously, how can you live with yourself when your laziness and greed has fucked up the world so badly that euthanasia is the only way to fix it?

And I have nothing for or against President Obama, but what he said about wanting to know "whose ass to kick" is total and utter bullshit because - like the Wall Street bailout - the complete lack of responsibility in this disaster just seems to highlight how much our government is OWNED. I don't care which party you worship, it's owned, and the sinking feeling deep in my stomach when I think about the future keeps getting lower and lower.

Anyway, I made this image in 3ds Max. I'd seen wire-sculpture 3d images before and wondered how to make them. I found a great tutorial about how to make random wires in 3ds using particle flow. Basically, you make a stream of flowing particles and have each one spawn new particles (tiny spheres) in their wake that - when numerous and close enough - look like strands of wires. The question was, how do I give them form instead of being a random explosion? The trick would be to model an object and have the particles flow over the surface. Well with all of 3ds's tools, you would think this would be something particle flow could do- but apparently it's not. There is a plugin that allows you to do that, but I don't have $200 to spend for a hobby (if I had a professional studio it would be a reasonable price.) I searched the internet for workarounds, but didn't find any, just suggestions that I buy that plugin.

OK, so I can't get the particles to flow across the face of the surface, but I CAN get them to originate from the face of a surface. What's more, I can tell them to flow to the surface of another object. The only problem is, they're either going to take a random path, or they're going to just make a bee-line for it. I realized I could use the same mesh for both a source and a target. and using different random seeds, the particles would travel to different random points in the same mesh. The only problem was the wires were a bunch of sticks crossing through the object's center, even if they did start and stop at the surface. Again, not QUITE what I wanted, but I was getting somewhere. I modeled a pelican shape using different objects (I didn't want a wire going straight from the beak to the tail):

OK, so now I had an image that looked like a bunch of sticks in a bird-shape. Nice, but not quite what I was looking for. I added a vortex force operator to make the particles swirl around an axis (which I aligned with each object's axis) and after a lot of playing around, I finally got the model I wanted.

The oily water was a bit of a pain in the tushie. I'm still not quite happy with the specular highlights in the ripples. The oily surface map was created using the freeware fractal creator Chaos Pro. It takes a little bit to get the hang of it, but it is an amazing program.

So that's it! A little auto-leveling and sharpening in Photoshop, and that's all she wrote! Thank you for coming by, and I hope you enjoy and think about buying the card and donating. Think of it this way, if you do, not only will you be helping the wildlife that have been hurt in this disaster, but you'll also get my autograph. Who knows, might be worth something on eBay someday! ;)


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ultimate Nerd Test

This nerd test is very simple:

Step 1: Watch Mister Hankey's Christmas Classics (or at least the first nine seconds of it, or even better, skip to the ending credits at 21:20 to see Trey fight the frizzies!)

Step 2: Answer the following question: What is, "Fighting the frizzies at eleven!" an allusion to?

Don't look it up, you either know the answer or you don't. If you don't - congratulations, you have a life! If you do - welcome, friend!


Friday, June 11, 2010

So what ARE the best songs written for computer games?

Yesterday, I mentioned that portal had one of the best songs ever written for a computer game, and I got to thinking: What are the others? The original Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Tetris games all have soundtracks that have become part of twentieth century culture. If I had to choose my favorite game soundtrack, it would be the one for Lucas Arts' Grim Fandango, which combines Mexican themes with thirties jazz and blues. (The game itself is one of my all-time favorites.) However, I was thinking of songs with lyrics. So, in no particular order, here are three of my favorites.

"War" from Sam & Max Season One

There are a few other wonderful possibilities for the Sam & Max franchise. There's the C.O.P.S. and Ted. E. Bear songs (also from Season One,) The T.H.E.M. song from Season Two, and the classic "King of the Creatures" from Sam & Max Hit the Road (you have to skip ahead to 6:15.) But I personally love the idea that the outbreak of war would cause secret service men to break into a song and dance number while the president would just sit there dumbfounded.

"Skeletons in My Closet" from The 7th Guest.

In the early 90s, multimedia computers with CD-ROMs, video memory, and sound cards exploded upon the scene, bringing with them games more ambitious and creative than anything seen today. Some of these games were Myst (Riven is my personal favorite, but Myst came first,) Doom, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Day of the Tentacle, Phantasmagoria, and yes, the greatest puzzle game of them all, The 7th Guest. Winning the game meant you got to hear this gem during the end credits.

And of course, "Still Alive" from the ending credits of Portal.

There's so many reasons to love this song. It's sung by GlaDOS, the game's boss. It's message is clear - you thought you blew me up, but I'm still alive. Not only that, but it's sung in such a childish, passive-aggressive, lay-the-guilt-on-thick sweet voice: OK, I used you and manipulated you and tried to kill you, but did you really have to be so cruel and try to destroy me? The game wouldn't have been half as fun without GlaDOS egging you on. (I love the Black Mesa joke.) But the real question is, will there be cake?

Are there any that I've forgotten, or any personal favorites?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Geek Ranting

Sigh... it never ends.

Apparently, Portal 2 will be delayed until 2011, for the reason that, "Making games is hard." At least they still have their senses of humor. There will supposedly be a Portal 2 "surprise" at this years E-3 gaming convention, which makes me wonder if they're planning an early release and just want to be schmucks about it and create buzz first. Very possible. If so, I take my hat off to you. But if not...

Dear Valve. (I feel like bitching today in letter format.)

Years ago you created an awesome, enjoyable first person puzzle game with some action overtones. Despite it's short length, it was very popular for six reasons:

1) It is creative.
2) It is just challenging enough to be fun, not so challenging as to be frustrating.
3) Hidden information that is slowly revealed, creating a sense of mystery and making the player want to know what's really going on. (The cake is a lie!)
4) Dark, dark humor.
5) An AI villain that speaks in increasingly hysterical, paranoid, alternatively childish then Jewish-mother-guilty manipulative monologues.
6) One of the best songs ever written for a computer game.

In short, it is ENJOYABLE. Get it? Few games these days are ENJOYABLE. Most of them just try to make as much cash as they can off of you with over-hyped bullshit that makes you angry you wasted your money. Instead, people love it because it is ENJOYABLE. Do I need to say it again? MAKE A GAME THAT IS FUN AND ENJOYABLE.

The only thing that really needs to be improved is the length (the first game was a freebie in the Orange Box release.) If you want people to buy a full-priced game you need to make it worth their while. Concentrate on a good background story that is slowly revealed, that's the best way to keep gamers enticed. You don't even need a new engine - the Half-Life 2 engine is beautiful for this game, and after six years you should have all the bugs worked out for any platform.

Throwing money at it WILL NOT HELP. Many low-budget independent movies are classics because they are ENJOYABLE - there's that word again - while many blockbusters suck.

Improving the special effects WILL NOT HELP.

Making meshes and textures so high resolution that no one will be able to cleanly play the game until a new graphics card comes out in two years because you're getting kickbacks from the manufacturers, (not saying you particularly are, but this seems to be a common practice with new games,) WILL NOT HELP it will just piss people off.

To sum up: make an ENJOYABLE game that YOU test thoroughly without expecting players to buy and beta-test at their expense and then have to wait months for a patch, (Don't get me started - there's no excuse for this with console games, everyone has the same systems. You can't blame it on different configurations, and you're just proving you were full of shit when you did it for games on the PC,) and you'll be fine. You'll have a winner and make gobs of cash, everyone will sing your praises, people will want to have sex with you, whatever.

Just remember that one word. ENJOYABLE.


Sensory overload.

June 10, 2010.

Google Inc. World Headquarters
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Attention: Inability to remove Google background image.

Dear Sir or Madam:


Reservedly yours,
Anthony Joseph LaRocca Jr., O.B.E.

PS - Yay, after fourteen hours,Google changed it back to normal, with the face-saving excuse that there was a bug that erased the link explaining why there were suddenly annoying and distracting pictures in the background. No, everyone understood WHY, they just hated it. I salute them for trying something different - it's always better to try than to do nothing, but this was just annoying. Bitching wins!!!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Daddy With Too Much Time

The other morning I woke up to the sound of my daughter (who will be seven in a few weeks) in the bathroom. I called out “Amanda, what are you doing?” She didn’t answer, so I ran in there to find her with a fistful of hair and a pair of scissors. “Look Daddy,” she said proudly, “I cut my hair!” They weren’t that many strands and she only cut off about three inches (her hair is long.) I honestly can’t tell where she cut them from. Does that mean it’s time for her to get a haircut?

We had a street fair the other day. There was a flash downpour, so the rides were temporarily closed. We stood there for twenty minutes while my daughter kept yelling “I want to go on the horsey!” (Carousel) “I want to go on the horsey!” One of my friends was working the carousel, and promised her she could be the first one on when the rain stopped. As soon as it did she waved us over and Amanda was the first one on. She stood on it, looked up at the horses, and said “I don’t WANT horsey, get me down!” All I can do is give a fond sigh.

The other night my son asked me why pi goes on forever. I said that first of all, we don’t know that it goes on forever, we just have not found an end or a repeat yet, (scientists have divided to 1,241,100,000,000 decimal places so far,) because we had a base-ten numbering system. I then explained what bases are, and why we use base ten. (To quote Tom Lehrer, “But don’t panic: base eight is just like base ten, really… if you’re missing two fingers!”) So the next morning in the shower I wondered: is there any base that pi can be resolved in? What about a base pi numbering system, where pi would equal one, two would be 2pi, three would be 3pi, and so on. The problem is that the “10” place would then be pi squared, which is somewhere between 3 and 4 pi. So in that sense, it wouldn’t work. I was thinking that maybe that would be a sign of superior intelligence in the galaxy, if they had a base-pi numbering system, as that would be a constant throughout the universe, as opposed to the number of digits on beings' hands, and if it wouldn't fit into our system of mathamatics, humanity would have to learn an entire new way of thinking. In a wonderful moment of synchronicity, my friend Julianne posted a quote from Buckminster Fuller on her fb page:

"To how many places does nature carry out PI when she makes each successive bubble in the white-cresting surf of each successive wave before nature finds out that PI can never be resolved?... And at what moment in the making of each separate bubble in Universe does nature decide to terminate her eternally frustrated calculating and instead turn out a fake sphere? I answered myself that I don't think nature is using PI or any of the irrational fraction constants of physics."

I like that I can enjoy looking at the universe from both angles.



Sunday, June 06, 2010

Trail Mix!

Illustration Friday: Trail. He's leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. OK, it's a stretch. Sue me. Click on the bad boy above for some real detail. :)

A few weeks ago, the Illustration Friday word was Equipment. I sketched out a well-equipped warbot:

I then went to 3ds Max and created some dummy objects as placeholders so I had an idea of how I wanted to model my warbot:

It took me about a week and a half to finish modeling him. ("Equipment"'s time as a subject was long over) Most of it was fashioned by deforming shapes (spheres, capsules,) or from creating an outline and then extruding it. I wanted him to have a copper steampunk look, but at the same time look futuristic. I suppose the Bioshock game series were a bit of an influence, though my son says it reminds him Proxy from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. (And I personally think all fictional war machines since the 80's owe a debt of gratitude to ED-209.) I played a lot with different metals and textures to get effects. The copper bitmap was made from a digital camera photo of the bottom of my teapot. To get finer detail, I extruded and beveled many of the objects faces. Sometimes after I beveled them inward, I overlapped the sunken faces with another material (such as the blue glow.)

I can be a bit of a mechanical / engineering wonk, and although the warbot is a bit top-heavy, a lot was created with functionality in mind. You can only see the top of it in the image, but the thighs have shock absorbers, and the feet have springs between the tallons (which never worked the way I intended.) Every joint has a screw that rotates with the child limb. The neck is on a gear, as is the rotating barrel of the gun. Rivets are just low polygon spheres. I tried to use the scatter modifier, which places duplicates of an object on the surface of another, but no matter what parameters I changed, the placement always wound up being slightly random.

(By the way, I have no idea why I created a rotating barrel on a weapon that looks like it's a laser beam. Maybe... maybe the two glowing bits are small relativity furnaces which convert energy into matter and feed it into the firing chamber, which would then, for rapid speed, need a rotating barrel to prevent overheating? I love thinking about the details.)

Once I finished modeling him, I wondered what sort of a setting to put him in. I decided to put him in the ruins of a city. Keeping the camera in the same location and at the same angle, I created some dummy objects for buildings, using a sphere to remind me where my finished bot would generally be:

Some of the buildings were difficult to model and took days, others were easy. The round tower's skeletal structure with dripping gray matter was from how I remembered everything looking after 9-11. It disturbed me that all these buildings that contained objects that had form and purpose and years of work were all reduced to a dripping gray ash, and after I finished modeling, I realized just modeling it brought back disturbing memories. I laugh at myself because I worked very hard to make the outer shell realistically smashed and broken- and you can't even see it behind the warbot. The second building on the right is very detailed and modeled right down to fire escapes, but you can't tell at all because of its placement. I love how the first building on the right (the one with the cracked and damaged facade) came out. I drew the cracks in Photoshop, modeled the facade with a very high mesh, and then used my drawings as a displacement map (which raises the light areas and sinks in the darkened ares.) The broken brick building was easy, it's just an opacity map (I made a black and white image in photoshop over the picture of the bricks, blacking out where the building would be invisible. The building is simply a 1 face by 1 face box.) The bridge was simple to model. You can barely tell because of the fog, but if you look all the way to the left, you can see that it's broken. That's why the main suspension cables aren't there to the left of the main support. (The thinner cables are hanging.)

The far off buildings were created by talking a plane and adding the Greeble modifier to it. This extrudes the faces to random heights. with extra "widgets" on top. I used a simple pattern of light squares on a grey grid to make the window lights (which I also used for an illumination map) They just repeat off into the distance, but they're just there to give the background depth, and are mostly covered by fog.

I tried to make the clouds in various ways. I took digital photos I had of skies and tried to manipulate the colors until I had what I wanted, but it didn't look right. I tried drawing them and then using the burn and dodge tools to give them texture. It still didn't look right. For the record, Photoshop's rendered clouds are absolute shit. I remembered I had used a facing-particles technique to make a cloud vortex for the IF entry 100%. I dug up this fantastic tutorial by Jonas Ussing. The only thing I did to add to the clouds texture was giving them a "smoke" diffuse map. With the spotlight (and moon) behind them, I finally got exactly the effect I was looking for.

The thing Is, I could keep detailing and adding and detailing and adding, (I considered having jets fighting in the sky,) but I'm very happy with what's here. You have to stop at some point.

As far as the final effects go, praise the FSM for Photoshop! If I was creating an animation rather than a static image, I would have had to make pains to make sure everything was perfect in 3ds Max so it could be correctly rendered frame after frame. I could have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked the settings to get the eye glows and the glowing fire in the mouth exactly as I wanted in 3ds, all it took in Photoshop was the addition of a few mouse clicks of linear light. The same goes for the electricity in the warbot's blade. I don't know who first came up with the technique, but it's very simple to make realistic lightning in Photoshop using rendered clouds (See? I knew they had a use!)

The final image was rendered with a width of 1920 pixels so it could be wallpaper on a widescreen hd monitor. I'm going to look for a site that has 3d wallpaper galleries on it to get a little publicity. I would have posted it at that resolution here, but Blogger's filespace is not infinite, and I have a lot that I've shared and plan to share in the future. But 1024p is nothing to sneeze at either!

So here's a Rorschach test: is the warbot humanity's destroyer, or it's defender?


Saturday, June 05, 2010

What Happened After Lost? the image above and find out, in I Can Bend Paperclips!