Vicarious Visions at GDC

May 22nd, 2013 by Aaron Artessa

User: “Something doesn’t look right, it’s just not working”.
Artist: “What’s bugging you?”
User: “ I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it”.
Artist: Look calm like the pro you are but secretly swear on the inside at the clueless situation.

This conversation is pretty familiar amongst artists with producers, testers and creative directors. Sometimes you simply can’t put your finger on the problem, but like the Matrix, you know it’s there. This tends to be where the bottleneck in the art pipeline happens and proverbial dollar signs start ticking through the producer’s eyes.

On my third visit to GDC, Vicarious Vision gave a talk about their process on developing environments for Skylanders offering an interesting solution to this problem utilizing custom tools working directly in their engine.

If you haven’t played Skylanders before, I’ll tell you that the environments are gorgeous, jaw-dropping, hand-painted scenes inviting you into a colorful story begging to be explored. Even the production environments feel polished and ready to ship.

Even the most accomplished of artists still find themselves scratching their heads. During testing, the team at Vicarious Visions discovered that the audience didn’t know what to do in some puzzle areas. The conversation above ensued. The answer: Visual Debugging.

Having your puzzles tied into your environment is a tricky balance- on one hand you want to cue the user so that they that can intuitively interact with the puzzle elements. On the other hand, you don’t want the visual cue to be so overt that the puzzle feels out of place. To achieve this balance, Vicarious Visions has a series of tools integrated into their engine to help debug what people are seeing behind the scenes in real time.

On the basic level, they could utilize filters to display one of three things: Chromadepth, Edge lines and Contrast. Using a Chromadepth they were able to identify color variation and hot spots in the scene, helping them see where the eye was being drawn and if the focal points were being lost in a mass of detail. Contrast works in a similar fashion except without chroma variance.

Another option Vicarious Visions employs is The Edge line tool. If you are familiar with Photoshop, this tool gives an effect similar to the Glowing Edges filter, except in black and white. This helps the artist identify areas of visual clutter due to various elements creating hard edges either due to specular detailing, contrasty diffuse textures, or harsh lighting.

These tools aren’t exactly impossible to mimic. As I said before, the edges can easily be simulated, as can chromadepth. That said, having it a part of your engine and working in real time- the benefits to this type of workflow are incalculable.

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WebRTC

May 15th, 2013 by Dominick Accattato

What is WebRTC

In the world of disruptive technologies, WebRTC has quickly caught the attention of the web development community. WebRTC at its core provides real-time communication between browsers. The following represents the group’s mission statement:

WebRTC is a free, open project that enables web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities via simple Javascript APIs. The WebRTC components have been optimized to best serve this purpose.

Our mission: To enable rich, high quality, RTC applications to be developed in the browser via simple Javascript APIs and HTML5.

Why was WebRTC created

WebRTC has humble beginnings but grand expectations based on source code that Google decided to open source. The original code came from two companies: Global IP Sound (for voice) and On2 (for video). These two companies were acquired by Google for the codecs and security based protocols for peer to peer streaming technology. On2 was the source for the webm project and codec.

Why is it interesting

WebRTC is interesting for so many reasons, but for real-time streaming developers it brings full circle what we have been working on for over 10 years. Previous to WebRTC, people were streaming with either their own proprietary technology or through a browser plugin. The most ubiquitous plugin was, and still is the Flash Player. Flash still remains today the best option for web conferences that want to maintain backwards compatibility with older browsers and leverage a full stack of streaming technologies.

However, WebRTC is steadily gaining momentum and will eventually overcome the advantages that Flash currently has in this space. It will take a bit of time for the technology to increase adoption, but it will eventually happen and many of the leading browser vendors are behind the movement. Especially since the standards are supported by the W3C and IETF working groups.

What are the current challenges?

Currently WebRTC has some challenges. First, it still needs wider acceptance and adoption. At this moment, only Chrome (Stable) and Firefox (Nightly) have support. Internet Explorer has expressed interest, but Safari has not made any indication that they would provide support. That said, if all the other major vendors end up supporting the standard, Safari would most likely follow suit.

Also, since the technology is largely peer to peer, there isn’t a great solution for a media server yet. In addition, the technology requires implementors install either a STUN or TURN server. A STUN server basically facilitates “hole punching” which is what is needed for NAT traversal through firewalls. A TURN server is basically a STUN server with extensions that allow it to also act as a fallback media relay server. Regardless, it’s still difficult to choose the right STUN/TURN server to work with, but I’m sure this will become more clear as the standards and implementors start to roll out more products.

In addition, there is still much work to be done on the specifications. The standards boards are continuing their efforts on the creation of their working drafts. These will eventually be published standards and RFC’s.

What are the main API Interfaces?

You can visit the following site for a good description of the API’s (http://docs.webplatform.org/wiki/apis/webrtc)

What about Flash Streaming?

I’ve thought about how this will affect the current ecosystem of Flash Streaming which basically dominates the video streaming on the Internet today. As Flash has a large adoption rate, it will continue to thrive and will even remain as a great backward compatible solution. At this point, I still feel like the Actionscript API’s are easier to work with and the aggregated technology behind Flash Streaming appears to be easier to work with, but that is a biased statement since I’ve been working with Flash Streaming for over 10 years.

Many groups are also still very interested in how WebRTC will affect Red5. I can only say that at this time, the Red5 developers including myself, are excited about the potential of WebRTC, and we plan to modernize Red5 to accommodate this new plugin-less approach.

Conclusion

So I hope I’ve drawn some attention to this very new and exciting technology. We at Infrared5 hope to put this technology to use for our clients. If you’re interested in a project based on WebRTC, just drop us a message.

More Information

Project Website: http://www.webrtc.org/

Google Code Project: https://code.google.com/p/webrtc/

WebRTC Blog: http://www.webrtc.org/blog

W3C Editor’s Draft: http://dev.w3.org/2011/webrtc/editor/webrtc.html

WebRTC Example: https://apprtc.appspot.com/?r=65920333

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2013 Women to Watch : Rebecca Smith Allen

May 7th, 2013 by Rosie

We are so proud that Rebecca Smith Allen, CEO and Creative Director of Infrared5, has been selected as one of Mass High Tech’s 2013 Women to Watch. The Boston Business Journal has featured an interview with Rebecca, who reflects on her entrepreneurial roots and her proudest accomplishments thus far. ““On a day-to-day level, what we’ve created here (at Infrared5) is a proud accomplishment,” she said. “Pulling together a group of talented developers and a creative team is something I’m very proud of.”

Check out this great interview to hear more of what Rebecca has to say!

Ch-Ch-Changes

May 2nd, 2013 by admin

Infrared5 is excited to announce our new location, on Amory Street in Jamaica Plain! Our new space, located near the up-and-coming Bartlett Square, features tons of natural light, a gorgeous conference room, and a separate room for scrums. The move is bittersweet – our 2 Harris Ave location has been our home since 2007 and has served us well as our company grew. Its hard to believe that we started out as just one tiny portion of that space, expanding until we occupied the entire building. Our Amory Street space promises to serve us as we enter into this next chapter and will only further foster the dynamic, exciting workplace that we know and love.

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