Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The German Town is Taking Shape, Nein?

It has been a long while since I made a video detailing work on the 3D models for the German town I am currently developing, so what better time than the present to correct this oversight? Here's a brief 44-second video of what I got so far (with a voice narration as an added bonus):

Although I say in the video that I will be dropping the models into Unity3D very soon, it may take a few more weeks until I get all the textures applied and baked on. Should be exciting to see if it all works out!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fachwerk and "Jacob's Ladder"

Spent a nice spring day, when I should have been outside, instead in front of the computer working on 3D models. I was able to get a substantial amount of work done on the second floor of Building A, which entailed fiddling with Blender settings to unfold the mesh a bit cleaner, looking at photos online to get ideas on German exposed timber framing (Fachwerk), and trying things out in GIMP. A screenshot of the Blender interface, showing the work in progress:

On a totally unrelated note: I also spend the afternoon crawling through YouTube while working on my model, listening to whatever caught my fancy. Today is was "Jacob's Ladder" by the Canadian prog rock band Rush. Madness, I say! Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grant Awarded, Game Progress, and Application for Summer Gaming Institute

Some good news to report: The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) at Elon University has awarded me with a substantial grant to foster the development of the DigiBahn Project. The grant will be used to upgrade the game engine from the free Unity3D Indie to Unity3D Pro (license comparison here), which will allow me, among other things, to improve the render-to-texture effects in the game, optimize game performance with the editor profiler, and import streaming videos into the game. I'm thinking that the latter will be especially useful for inserting instruction videos into the game (such as those I make for my beginning German language courses using Camtasia) via an in-game hand-held PDA device. Incorporating such a device virtually in the game might be a good way to blend instruction and the game environment in a non-obtrusive manner that minimizes impact on the game flow. I will even have some grant money left over to get some textures from Arroway.

Now that I am on Spring Break, I have been spending a lot more time with game development. I'm still working on developing what I have termed Building A for the game, which will be located adjacent to the tower, and had the chance recently to do a quick render:

The render showed that I needed to tweak the bump map a bit and, perhaps, that I also need to revisit the color map as well. I'm not too fond of the corners of the building. I'm also wondering what I should do with the doors. Eventually, I'd like to be able to open them, but I'm not exactly sure how I will go about doing this at the moment. As Building A is an older structure, I'm thinking that it will probably serve the purpose of a city museum (Stadtmuseum), such as the kind that is also located in an old building in both Munich and Göttingen.

Finally, I just sent off an application to the upcoming Humanities Gaming Institute, which will take place 07-25 June on the University of South Carolina. My wife and I are expecting our second child (a boy) shortly before the institute kicks off, but hopefully I will be able to attend as much of the institute as possible. I will keep you posted regarding developments in this area.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Making UV maps and 3D model textures get along

I've been having some fun recently getting the textures for my game models look just right, which has resulted in a change in my workflow. In the past, I would create a UV map by first making seams in the 3D meshes where I think the least amount of distortion would occur, unwrap the mesh, export it as a .tga file into GIMP, and then create the texture based on this file inside GIMP. As my models became more complicated, however, I would have to texture the models in layers. I also began using the Unwrap Smart Projection option, which seemed to produce flatter surfaces with less distortion. An unfortunate side-effect of this procedure was getting my mesh scattered from hell to breakfast, as you can see in the UV/Image Editor of this screenshot:

And although the UV maps generally came out more distortion free than usual, some components of the mesh (such as the windows in this model) continued to come out in different sizes and slightly skewed, which made it difficult to texture the model inside of GIMP.

After tweaking around with the software for a while, I came up with the following solution:
  1. Insert seams into the mesh so that the least amount of distortion occurs;

  2. Unwrap and the mesh using the Unwrap Smart Projection option;

  3. Clean up and organize the projection;

  4. Export as .tga file into GIMP, where a rough 3D texture is created;

  5. Save texture as .png file (high compression) and upload into Blender;

  6. In the 3D View Edit Mode of Blender, select areas in mesh that need fine-tuning;

  7. Adjust UV projection points in the UV/Image Editor; and

  8. If necessary: make aesthetic changes to 3D texture in GIMP and re-import.
Hopefully this workflow will last me for a while, or until I come up with something else that works better, is easier to do, or both.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heroic Narratives?

I have been wanting to get some development on the project done these last few weeks, but I have been distracted by the day-to-day responsibilities of a college professor that have been nickel-and-diming my time. An interesting product of these distractions, however, has been a new general studies course examining the role of the hero in Western culture, with a primary focus on texts in the German tradition. I thought that, since most video games use a heroic figure as a means of inserting a player into the game space and for advancing gameplay, an examination of a recent video game hero, say, Commander Shepard of Mass Effect 2 fame would also be in order for the class.

But thinking about player agency, and how it could potentially trouble the emergence of a heroic narrative, got me to thinking about how current heroes are structured, what it means to be a hero today, and if contemporary heroic narratives differ from traditional ones. How is Beowulf different from/similar to Commander Shepard? Nothing really structured at this moment, but some good questions that could be thrown around in a seminar. Perhaps a more solid idea will emerge from discussion with the seminar participants.