13 September 2012

iPhone 5 and why Apple makes so much dosh

When you try to improve something that is done very well, you have to be careful not to loose sight of what made it good in the first place. The irony of this is that when you do offer an update to the product, it can appear like you've changed very little, even if everything has changed.

Is design purity a blessing and a curse?

Apple is trying to keep it simple, it's hard to expand on something if your philosophy is simplicity. If they made it more complicated you'd find people complaining that Apple had lost sight of what made the original iPhone so good, and current satified users might switch to another platform. If they keep it as close to the original as they can, they get accused of recycling the idea over and over again.

For me, it's the manufacturing process that stands out as being the most remarkable thing about the new iPhone 5. The back appears to be made from a single, two tone piece of whatever, but it is in fact 3 pieces, so precisely chosen from a selection of over 700 panel variations, with mere microns in difference, it is almost impossible to tell. The design itself, aside from the larger screen is only subtly different from it's predecessors and for all internet "disappointment" about today, it may seem to the creators that all their effort and passion over such tiny details may have been wasted. (Although, perhaps the 2% share price rise may be seen as a positive sign). But there are a lot of people who would not be impressed with the new iPhone, even if it could wash the dishes for you.

Apple's main advantage over the competition is that people spend money on their stuff and are large part of it comes straight to Apple. That is why, even though Android sells more devices, has a larger market share per device, Apple still creams off a much larger percentage of revenue spent on smartphones than everyone else. Granted, hundreds of companies benefit financially from Android-based revenue but they are free to bastardise the original blueprint however they like - usually to it's detriment. When you buy an Android, you can't really be sure what you're getting.


Hardly anyone buys Android apps, even the good ones. Android OS suffers from instability and problems with incompatible apps because there are so many different devices on offer and so many versions of the OS out there that it's no longer economically viable (even for big companies) to buy and test their apps on every available device.

If your Android device can't run the app it is NOT primarily the fault of the developer. It's the way Android is free to be customised on anything and everything. I can't ensure it will work. Sorry. That's why I have a lite version of my apps so you can be sure before you purchase the full version. If it doesn't work I can only apologise, but unless you pay 10x the current selling price and buy ten's of thousands of units, my hands are tied.

Google don't make money on Android, per se, rather they make money from sales of Apps/Books/ Videos on the Appstore. Their current arrangement is vastly inferior to Apples in terms of the company that founded the platform.

So why do people spend so much money on Apple related stuff. Well, it's good quality. It's reliable, there are multiple ways to buy apps and games. What all the other phone makers miss is one detail. A detail that is the sole reason for the Apple Appstore's success:

The iTunes Card  (Apple's seemingly invisible advantage over Android)

This means, anyone with a bit of spare cash can buy apps/games/music. A teen or child with birthday money can walk into a store and buy a card, top it up, go online and go crazy. Every other store, as of today, requires a credit/debit card to pay. The people with the least financial responsibilities, and therefore most likely to buy throwaway things like Apps are currently denied access as a result. This is crazy and a clearly overlooked detail.

Until Google Play sells top-up cards in retail stores like iTunes and Appstore cards, developers on Android will not get nearly as much as they do on iTunes. As a result, quality apps will continue to debut in Apple's store first, some will never make the transition over to Google.

In the same way that the developers battle is to get downloads and retain users of their apps/games, Apples' is to retain it's existing customers while attracting new ones. This is becoming harder because there is now a clear polarised Smartphone market. In the Smart Phone customer base, a cavernous rift appears to be forming between Apple and Android and getting people to migrate from one side to the other will become increasingly harder for all concerned.

EDIT: Ethics

So I asked why Apple makes so much dosh but shamefully forgot to consider the ethical implications of it's manufacture and what things are sacrificed to get such good profit margins:

So, the most important question is how much does it cost to make one iPhone in a factory? Noone knows, this is a closely guarded secret no doubt. Is the poor working conditions in the factory something that could be avoided? Why couldn't Apple sacrifice a little of it's margins to ensure the workers get decent conditions to work in and reasonable pay for the place where they live. Maybe you couldn't make them at all if you had to take this into consideration.

And are Apple Appstore developers party to this inethical treatment of workers? Should consumers or developers worry at all?

One day there will be next to no human involvement in the mass manufacture of these devices. What will people say then? Robots stole our jobs? Or humans no longer need to do degrading low wage manufacturing jobs? Perhaps these people wouldn't have jobs at all if Apple wasn't there.

PS: I own an iPod Touch 4 and Samsung Galaxy SII, a PC and a Mac. I don't favour one or the other, but I do need an iPhone or iPad for development purposes.

Good luck Nintendo, you're going to need it

 Nintendo just announced their new Wii U console release date. December 8th release for Japan: 26,260 yen for basic set, 31,500 yen for premium.

I have fond memories of previous Nintendo hardware, I'd love to see them succeed with this....

However, I believe it will not be a success like the Wii and it could end up being their last TV-only console. They will probably end up converting all their games to work on multiple platforms and focus on Software. Sony will not release a PS4 or another PSP. The nextXbox will be seriously challenged (pricewise) by the Ouya and Steam box, which will make profits from day one and be easier to publish on.

The old masters are loosing out to iPad/iPhone/Android, PC gaming is coming back with the indie revolution (plus the intro of Windows 8 tablets). The risk of building a new game-focused console that only works on TV/in the living/bedroom right now is massive. Nintendo seem to grudgingly know this as they are trying take an intermediate step to handheld/portable delivery with the controller. They should have been much bolder and made a tablet-style console that can stream to the TV but has it's own screen with a wide-open software market straight away.

Personally, I feel that the 2nd TV games console era is actually drawing to a close. I think the global economy will remain stagnant for several more years and people will not buy so much new tech in the west (if they do it will be phones and tablets). China and India might be the saviours of the next gen, but they will soon be making their own kit and their own games.

In a few years - in front of the TV/on the couch - we in the west will be playing on the Ouya and Steam box, Apple's TV / Airplay, Oculus Rift/AR and streamed gaming will be making an impact. Freemium will suck out the dwindling revenue from retail sales which would have fed AAA titles in the past. People will come to expect their gaming fix for free as their money goes back on essential things like food, fuel, clothing, and saving for a rainy day and their tastes shift from demanding every new game look more photo-real than the last to expecting every game be unique to look at.

29 April 2012

Nekro - Shiva3d developed PC title reaches crowdfunding target

This post is basically a quick congratulations to darkForge for successfully getting their action game Nekro crowdfunded over at Kickstarter They passed their target of $100,000 with 4 days still to go. My main interest in the project is its use of Shiva3d - an extremely underrated and less well known multi-platform game engine. The game is scheduled to be released on PC, Mac and Linux currently.
Nekro is an overhead, randomly generated action game about summoning evil forces of darkness to do your bidding!
Hailing from the era of great classics such as Myth: The Fallen Lords, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Dungeon Keeper and more, we are creating a game rooted deep in PC gaming's history, but with all the flourishes you've come to expect from a modern experience.
Combining full HD graphics, a unique premise, solid gameplay, and tight controls Nekro can be one hell of a game - but not without you...

Check out their Kickstarter page here:

Anyway, congratulations and good luck to darkForge.

23 February 2012

V-Ray for Autodesk Softimage

Looks like this amazing plugin for Softimage is almost Built on V-Ray’s core platform of rendering speed, stability, and quality, V-Ray® for Autodesk® Softimage® is an advanced rendering solution for the VFX and animation industries. V-Ray for Softimage includes ICE support, efficient Global Illumination, versatile shaders, and much more.

V-Ray for Softimage: General Overview - February 2012

V-Ray for Softimage: V-Ray Materials - February 2012
Shading with V-Ray for Softimage - Create materials quickly and efficiently using V-Ray Materials, and simplify the creation of complex, layered materials with the V-Ray Blend and V-Ray Car Paint Materials.

V-Ray for Softimage: Render Elements - February 2012 
Render Elements - Take control of your compositing workflow using the expansive list of Render Elements.

V-Ray for Softimage: V-Ray Proxy - February 2012
V-Ray Proxy - Manage scene memory and efficiently render massive amounts of geometry using V-Ray Proxy objects.
V-Ray for Softimage: Hair & Fur Shading - February 2012
Hair & Fur Shading - Render hair and fur with unprecedented quality, control, and speed with the VRayHairMtl shader.

Chaos Group products are licensed per machine and with one V-Ray for Softimage license you can start and use V-Ray GUI and tools inside the platform, start one local render job, speed up batch rendering using up to 5 render slaves with V-Ray Standalone or up to 5 render nodes with Softimage batch.

The official suggested end user price of a single new license of V-Ray 1.5 for Softimage is 890 Euro/ 1230 USD/ 770 GBP

24 January 2012

Exocortex | Species

Exocortex Species 1.0 Official Release Video from Exocortex Species on Vimeo.

Exocortex Technologies, in collaboration with CG Artists Chris Covelli and Eric Thivierge , is pleased to introduce Exocortex Species. Exocortex Species simplifies the process of human character creation from designing your character’s unique attributes, integrating sculpting results, to rig creation, even animation. With Species, you will create higher quality animated characters faster and at a lower cost, while avoiding the generic look that often come when purchasing off-the-shelf models.
Exocortex Species supports both Autodesk Softimage 2010, 2011 and 2012 on both Windows and Linux. Floating and node locked licenses are available starting at $299. For full licensing details, please refer to the Species Purchase Options.

Simplifying Characters Creation
The brain child of Chris Covelli, Exocortex Species has been designed to meet the needs of production animators and TDs while simplifying the process of character creation. Chris realized that the types of characters required in production can be viewed as variations of the fundamental human form. Thus Chris designed a system that starts with a high quality human proportional rig, either male or female, which is then customized via a simple but powerful morphology blender to the unique character proportions required for your production. Eric Thivierge joined the project to apply his Softimage plugin experience to make the best product possible. The resulting unique character form can then be converted, at the push of a button, to a high quality production rig that your animators will love working with.

Save Time, Save Money and Iterate Faster
Exocortex Species is primarily designed as a time saver. Species will save studios and artists days if not weeks of time developing character assets.
In a matter of minutes you can create multiple characters from the same proportional rig and line them up for quick reviews by your designers. Once approved you simply generate the animation rig which takes less than a minute and you’re off and running into layout and shot production.
No longer are your artists required to spend days building a mesh from scratch and the same if not more to build the rig to go along with it.
Less time spent in character development means more time for creativity in animation and thus bears a higher quality product.

Flexibly Body Types avoid that that Generic Look
To avoid both the generic cookie cutter look that often comes with using pre-build, off the shelf models and to better meet the needs of your art direction, Species has integrated an innovative body type blending system. Chris and Eric have created more than a dozen classic body types for both the male and female proportional rigs each with its own unique twist including:

  • Standard Build
  • Out of Shape / Beer Belly
  • Cartoon-Style
  • Stocky
  • Skinny
  • Obese
  • Pro Athletic Muscular
  • Exaggerated Muscular
  • Midget
If one of our classic body types doesn’t meet your needs, it is possible in Species to blend these classic body types together to create the unique mix your production requires.
These presets are accessible in the custom synoptic (GUI Picker) for the Proportional Rig.
Quality Models to Build Upon
Species includes two high quality human models, one female and one male. These models have been designed by the creators to meet the needs of production. The meshes have been modeled to ensure the topology allows for the best deformations and come complete with quality mapped UVs. For the large majority of projects, these models should be sufficient for modelling humanoids.
Mesh Customization to meet Production Needs
But if these meshes don’t meet your needs, Species supports a number of convenient work flows for achieving more:
  • Both of the models and Species rigs are designed such that additional detail can be added to the meshes.
  • Because the meshes already have quality UVs, it is straightforward to import any fine details sculpted in either ZBrush or Mudbox.
  • It is even possible to use Species with user supplied meshes. This provides the flexibility to rig a character that has already been generated by other means, enabling Species to be adopted mid-production if required.
To accelerate work flow, Species utilizes the primary synoptic view below (featured in the animation rig section) for navigating the proportional rig controllers. This synoptic is also automatically attached to any custom meshes upon import.

A Professional Grade Rig, Automatically Created
Eric Thivierge, a professional character TD at Animal Logic, has created in Species a fast and fully automated conversion system that converts your proportional rig and mesh into an animation rig. Eric’s data driven approach allows for a vast range of different rig configurations to be built on the fly.
The animation rig includes:
  • Look at control with parent switching
  • IK / FK arms and legs with stretch
  • Gimbal offsets for FK arms and legs
  • FK controls are mirrored so selecting both and rotating provides mirrored posing
  • Roll divisions along the arms and legs
  • Foot Roll and banking
  • Adjustable roll and banking pivots
  • Re-sizable biceps, forearms, femurs, and shins
  • Hybrid IK / FK spline based spine
  • Scalable rig via the Offset_M_Con

Like the proportional rig, the animation rig comes with a multi-page synoptic allowing your animators to select controls and animate with ease!
The animation rig has been designed with a mixed pipeline in mind. The deformations of the meshes are driven by null (locator) objects and thus allows users to export the mesh along with the deformers to other packages such as Maya or any others that support FBX.
The characters generated through the Species system are portable and do not require additional plug-ins to operate normally. The synoptic can be localized to the current project and can then be packaged with the model file for inter studio transfer or for sending to artists off site.
If the users so chooses, they may generate an armature with no controls from the proportional rig and then add a control system themselves.

emNewton2 (version 2.0) announced

emNewton2 v.2.0 (beta) - "Celestial Chaos" from Eric Mootz on Vimeo.

Interesting new XSI plugin from Mootzoid called emNewton2:

"A two minute long release video showing four simulations done with emNewton2.
This plugin is an implementation of Sir Isaac Newton's "Law of universal Gravity". The main difficulty of the implementation was to achieve reasonable simulation times even though each particle attracts each other particle (that's the evil O(n^2) thing).
The entire simulation and rendering was done on a single workstation with 1 x Intel i7.
At the end of the animation is a little more information concerning the amount of particles, the simulation times and the memory usage."

emNewton2 is an implementation of Sir Isaac Newton's Law of universal Gravity, which roughly goes like this:
"Each particle attracts each other particle with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them." This plugin for Softimage's ICE can be used to create simulations that are driven by gravity, such as solar systems or stars with an accretion disc. Furthermore this plugin has a "fusion" functionality meaning that intersecting particles melt together.
emNewton2 is well integrated into ICE and works nicely with the built-in compounds such as forces, obstacles, subframe sampling and other effects.

29 December 2011


I like adventure games. And I like Science Research facilities (that should at least be obvious :) ). Especially, if they either go hideously wrong (Half Life/Black Mesa), or become abandoned (Aliens). It gets even better if, I get the opportunity to awake inside one, alone, in the grim darkness... wondering what the hell went wrong...

The number of games and movies that play off this premise easily stretches into double figures by now (Alien, System Shock, Bioshock, Half Life...) but I don't care, its a timeless setup.

Anyway, this post is up to introduce anyone who hasn't heard of and would like to hear about a new adventure game called STASIS. It's done completely (as far as I can tell) by Christopher Bischoff, using the Visionaire Studio game engine. It's unfunded (last time I looked) and as a result all the more impressive. I think it's starting to look very promising in spite of it wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. They are good inspirations to have after all.

Also, take a look at the WIP thread at CGTalk over here, it's pretty interesting to watch this project develop and get an opportunity to speak to the developer.

24 December 2011

Random Control's LIVE Softimage plugin for Arion Render

A completely new line of plugins is coming: The RandomControl LIVE plugins.

RandomControl LIVE is a line of products that fully integrate our technology in the modeling package.

The first modeling package that we are proud to support is Autodesk Softimage. Our plugin supports Render Region, native rendering of animations, native Softimage frame buffer as well as a cool RandomControl LIVE viewport with realtime feedback.

We also have fully integrated our material system into Softimage interface, with nodal support for BSDF layers, bitmaps etc. Everything is Softimage-like and straightforward to use!

Pricing and licensing policies will be presented when the LIVE plugins are released. Owners of an Arion or fryrender license, will be offered the LIVE plugin of their choice for free.

More info about Arion Render can be found here and in their latest news letter.