Saturday 29 November 2008

Building Blocks Preview

Here's a lovely little video from Chris showing off our new highly customizable buildings.

Wednesday 26 November 2008


Damned hooligans! Who do they think they are, driving like that?

And in case you hadn't noticed, check out the buildings. No. they're not SketchUp imports. They're new-style Moviestorm customisable buildings. (Which will be ready - as always - when they're ready.)

Video by Chris Ollis.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

SketchUp-to-Moviestorm importer, anyone?

Let's dispense with the pre-amble for this post, and get right to the good stuff. We have a SketchUp importer.

Google SketchUp has proven incredible popular since its launch. It's a fun and easy way to create 3D models, and the 3D Warehouse provides a seemingly-limitless amount of free content.

An easy SketchUp import tool is an oft-quoted request from Moviestormers. Some of you have even managed to painstakingly import some models yourselves using the Modder's Workshop and some techno-magical science, along with good old fashioned stubborn determination. We've wanted to include the ability to import SketchUp models into Moviestorm for quite some time, but it's no easy job. Luckily for all of us, engineer extraordinaire Julian proved up to the task.

We've still got a bit of polish to add to this tool, but it works, and it's almost idiot-proof. I managed to import the pizza, bridge and airliner above by doing little more than locating the .skp file with the Modder's Workshop and clicking "Go".

The models are imported as static objects (so you won't be able to attach any animations to them) but you can now create whatever content you need using SketchUp and have it appear in your movie in just a few clicks.

This is going to make a huge difference to the way you use Moviestorm. Now, not only can your set contain any set object in the Moviestorm library, it can also contain any object in the Google SketchUp Warehouse. That's a lot of additional content.

Expect to see this make an appearance (for Pioneers only, at least initially) in Moviestorm version 1.1.2, coming next week. Yes, really. None of our usual "when it's done, in about five years time" nonsense. This baby's ready to roll.

Friday 21 November 2008

The man in the Moviestorm hat is dead

No, not that man in the Moviestorm hat. I'm still very much here.

The long-awaited Law and Order pack is getting closer by the day. It really is, honest...

(For the avoidance of doubt, this pack has nothing to do with the Law & Order TV show. They have an ampersand, you see, and we spell the whole word. Whole different thing.)

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Of all the Views in all the Moviestorms, he had to make changes to mine.

It was a Tuesday, just like any other Tuesday in rain-soaked Cambridge. I'd just returned from the 2008 Machinima Film Festival in New York. Crazy city. I was jetlagged, but anxious to get back to work. Before I left for New York, I'd completely rewritten and expanded the internal help pages for Moviestorm's Set Workshop View. It was a big job, but I'd got it finished and submitted to QA for testing just before I left. I was feeling proud of my work. I was ready to make a start on the Director's View section.

Dave Lloyd, co-founder of the company and Chief Bit Shoveller, looked up as I walked into the room. He seemed nervous; sheepish. Perhaps even guilty. I stared him down. I knew he'd crack eventually.

"Ingram," he gulped, "good to see ya! I, er ... I didn't know you were back in town. I'd love to stay and chat, but I got things to do, you know? Gotta run!"

I wasn't buying. This schmuck knew something, and I was going to find out what. I grabbed him by the lapels of his smart checkered suit.

"Spill it, Lloyd," I growled, "whadya know?"

A single bead of perspiration rolled down his craggy cheek, glinting in the moonlight, and then dropped to impact on the top of his trusty MacBook like a gunshot.

"I made some changes." he whispered, "I'm sorry! I didn't know it would go this far!"

I might have guessed. Lloyd was always pulling crazy stunts like this. They didn't call him "The Workaholic" for nothing. I pulled out my copy of The Ruby Way from inside my trenchcoat and pressed it to his throat. Violence is the only thing these engineers understand.

"Show me," I muttered between clenched teeth, "or I'll cut you a new programming language."

I felt sick. All my hard work had been for nothing. My documentation was now as useless as a J2EE engineer on an OpenGL project. This job gets to you sometimes. It eats away at your soul like a World Of Warcraft addiction. Still, as I walked down the smoke-filled alleyway towards my office, I had to admit: Lloyd's changes were good. Crazy, but good. Maybe I could document them after all ...

Monday 20 October 2008

Be wery wery qwiet - she's running for Vice President

Not content with staging a lightsaber battle in the Oval Office, the elusive HappyToast has created an Elmer Fudd cartoon staring everyone's favourite gun-toting potential Vice President Sarah Palin as the eponymous hunter.

HappyToast has sneakily managed to acquire a preview of some of the new shotgun animations from the forthcoming Law Enforcement & Crime content pack[1]. Combined with the Sarah Palin lookalike from the US Election 2008 pack it makes for a very effective satire.

[1] When it's ready.© Well, honestly - what did you expect?

Wednesday 15 October 2008

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold

Here at Moviestorm Towers, we get requests every day from users who desperately want a particular bit of functionality that we haven't yet implemented. We don't rest on our collective laurels when these requests arrive. There's a big database full of feature requests, to which each and every user request is diligently added. We're only a small team, so we can't do them all at once, however much we might want to.

There's always a list of Secret Things We're Working On And Are Not Allowed To Talk About. Sometimes, the upcoming secret stuff is just too cool, and one of us will drop a teasingly ambiguous hint or two in the forums. We love torturing you.

A lot of the things that are on your collective "I want this NOW" list are also on mine. One of the things that's been in the top three on my personal wishlist for several months is the ability for characters to walk up and down stairs.

I'm sure you've guessed what this blog post is about now. Take a look at this:

Those are stairs all right, and that's world-famous Moviestorm stock character Stu walking up them with the casual grace of a born catwalk superstar.

It's better than that, though. Mark's ├╝ber coding skills mean that Stu's movement up the stairs is just a standard Moviestorm walk command. That means you can change the speed and watch Stu adapt his footfalls automatically:

You can even change the gait to make him limp up the stairs, or tip-toe, or any of the other standard walk gaits. He can even walk up the stairs backwards:

It's not limited to that one set of stairs, either. It works equally well if the stairs are curved. What's that you say? Spiral stairs? Sure.

Backwards? Erm, okay.

Whilst playing a guitar? If you absolutely insist:

All together now: "And she's buying a stairway to heaven ...[1]"

Now, before you all starting sending me private messages, the answer is "when it's good and ready and not before", and that won't be for a wee while yet. You'll just have to wait patiently like all the other boys and girls.

[1] For legal reasons, I'll have to ask you to hum along yourself. I'd hate to be accused of infringing copyright by reproducing the mighty Stairway, in any of its 100+ forms.

Moviestorm in New York

In a couple of weeks, Short Fuze is despatching an elite squad of ninja machinima evangelists to take Gotham by 'storm. Armed only with laptops, beer and charisma, they'll sneak into Times Square during the Halloween celebrations. Their mission is to infiltrate the Machinima Film Festival, brainwash the attendees into abandoning Second Life, and hold Overman hostage until he agrees to rename the Overcast The Moviestorm Show.

Well, when we say "elite", we mean Matt & Johnnie. Look for the guy in the hat or his tubby bitch and they'll buy you a beer (or other tasty beverage if you're not a beer-drinking type). Chances are if you're reading this, you're already a convert to the True Faith, so they won't preach at you and threaten you with disembowelment if you don't download Moviestorm immediately. Instead, they'll listen to your endless suggestions for improvements and new content packs, and relay them back through the interweb to the Moviestorm Command Centre (Europe), where, um, something may happen as a result.

Matt will also be sharing a stage with John Martin of Reallusion championing the cause of non-game machinima tools in a panel on Interfacing Virtual Actors. They will be joined by Ken Perlin of the NYU Media Lab and Michael Nitsche of Georgia Tech.

Come along if you can. It'll be a blast!

Monday 13 October 2008

We've gone a bit batty. And cobwebby, and pumpkiny ...

Unless you're extremely naive or chronically forgetful, you'll already know that Halloween is on its way. Never one to miss out on an opportunity for silliness and costumes, we've got a fat Halloween-themed Content Pack almost ready for you.

We got pumpkins, bats and cobwebs.

We've got ghosts and coffins and candles.

Most excitingly of all from my point of view is the new grinning skull character head, which makes my Discworld fanboy bone go all tingly.

The Halloween Pack is a pet project of Chris_Ollis, who - not content with the many hours we force him to slave over a hot 3d modelling application - assembled the dozens of assets in this pack in his free time. So, if this little teaser whets your appetite at all, you can thank Chris.

All being well, we'll release this pack within the next few days. Of course (as regular readers will know) that's a hope rather than a promise. Still, as Death so aptly puts it


Friday 3 October 2008

Election 08 - Star Wars edition

OK, fess up, how did you do the light sabres, Mr HappyToast?

Best Moviestorm election video yet!

Thursday 2 October 2008

The guy in the hat

Whenever I'm around at conferences and shows, I just tell people to look for the guy in the hat. So much so, that photographer Gordon Tant figured that he didn't even need me in the picture to represent Moviestorm.

(c) Gordon Tant: used by permission

Monday 29 September 2008

The wheels on the bus

Dave's been playing with vehicles.

OK, it's not a bus. It's a mini. Well spotted.

The wheels go round and round, and they turn with the car. The car even banks as it goes round corners. And it's dead easy to control. Plonk the car down where you want it, move the timeline to when you want the next waypoint to be, and drag the car there, then hey presto, it vrooms along nicely. (Well, it'll vroom when we add in the sound effects. Till then you'll have to make your own vroomy noises, or grab freebies off the Net.)

We've exaggerated the banking on this clip slightly so that it looks more cinematic. When we were designing this feature, we opted not to go for "realistic" game physics or actual car physics modelling. The idea is to make the vehicles look good on the screen, not make them fun/challenging to drive, or behave like real cars. As a film director I want to choose how a car behaves, and in RealFilm, I'd spend money modifying a car's suspension to get the effect I was after. So, when we've finished writing it, you'll be able to control the behaviour and make them corner perfectly smoothly or career around wildly, regardless of their actual speed, just by playing with a slider.

What's that? You want to know the release date? Oh, come on, you should know me better than that by now!

Viva la Revolucion!

We'd suspected all along that David Bailey wasn't just your everyday CEO. Now we have the proof. Spotted in a bar at the Film Festival last week with other so-called "artistic" types, his true colours are finally revealed.

Whaddya say - is this the new Che?

Friday 19 September 2008

The Sound of... Progress!

After implementing the audio for the Base pack (along with the Bedroom Blog, Stand Up and Song Contest packs), I turned my attention to the rest of the currently available content packs, and those that are forthcoming (Yes, the Crime pack). He's a look at what's coming up:
  • Footstep audio for metal and gravel surfaces (For the Sci-Fi pack)
  • Audio for the Sci-Fi doors, and the Saucer and Shuttle.
  • Various firing noises for guns in the Crime pack (And the two Sci-Fi guns)
  • Sound effects for several more chair types (And support for playing foley on chairs, something that was missing from Release 1.0)
I'll also be tidying up the previous sounds; I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds the constant coughing to be annoying, especially as it's always the female cough!

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

We're looking for some native German speakers to help us out with testing the translated version of Moviestorm some time in the next couple of weeks. Our translators are good, but they're not film-makers, so we want to be sure everything's just right.

If you'd be willing to help out, please email John O'Boyle at joboyle [at] moviestorm [dot] co [dot] uk


Friday 12 September 2008

Wind in the Willows

Here's a little something for you that we didn't mention in the sneak peeks earlier this week, mainly because Dave didn't tell us he was doing it until last night.

Yep, they're swaying in the breeze. Not much, but just enough to stop them looking like plastic models.

Pretty, isn't it?

Thursday 11 September 2008

The forbidden love of one man for his microphone

If you've been using Moviestorm for any length of time, you'll have begun to realise that there's a lot of functionality there. Teaching people how to use Moviestorm fully and effectively is a difficult job. Unfortunately, it's also my job. It's made even harder by the fact that, no sooner have I finished a bit of documentation or a video tutorial than the blasted dev team selfishly releases a new update to Moviestorm with lots of extra whizzy bits and improvements, and I have to start all over again.

Nonetheless, I proceed undeterred. I've just put the finishing touches to a brand new (and up-to-date) set of video tutorials. They'll be going live on the moviestorm website any day now, and they'll replace the existing tutorials. As well as the four tutorials we had before ('Moving Around', 'Giving Instructions', 'Creating Characters' and 'Changing Your Set'), I've also managed to squeeze in a fifth - an introduction to the camerawork system. Each tutorial is between 5 and 10 minutes long, and designed to give you the basics of Moviestorm as quickly and simply as possible.

I've been using Camtasia Studio to produce these videos, and I've been very impressed with the package. Although it's practically unusable on anything but the beefiest powerhouse of a machine, it has a lot of incredibly useful options for video tutorials and the like. I'm also loving - and I do mean that in a slightly obsessive, scaring-your-friends-and-family kind of way - my Samson CO1U USB condenser microphone. Technically, it's Short Fuze's property, but if anyone tries to take it back, they'll have to get through me. I'm prepared to defend my precious mic with physical violence if needs be. I use Skype for voice chats fairly regularly. Since I've started using the CO1U, every single conversation now starts with the phrase "Wow, the audio quality is crystal clear - what mic are you using?".

Creating these tutorials is quite an involved process. As well as having to constantly work to tone down my usually gravel-strewn North-of-England accent, I also have to deal with the fact that sometimes I simply forget how to speak [1]:

Once the script has been written and the screen recording done, I edit the video down to the shortest length I can make it, and then add in all the overlays that show mouse button presses, screen highlights and zoom and pan. Finally, I tag the video with bookmarks at suitable points and then render it out as a streaming Flash video.

Somehow, despite my best efforts, QA always manage to get hold of these vids before they make it to the website. I live in fear of Ben_S wandering over to my desk and muttering, "Johnnie, that last video tutorial you recorded ... are you aware that you didn't mention [insert crucial bit of information]?".When that happens, there's nothing for it but to dry my tears, release Ben_S from the headlock, and re-record.

It's usually around this time that the next version of Moviestorm is released.

[1] Listen carefully at the end and you'll hear another thing that forced me to retake - the Squeakiest Chair In The Universe.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Obamastorm and John McMovie

From our little island hide-away off the coast of Europe, we're watching with interest as our American brethren choose the next Leader Of The Free World, and we figured you'd like to be able to express your views through movies, whether serious or satirical, Republican or Democrat. This isn't as sneaky a peek as the other things I mentioned yesterday: we've already pre-released the Election pack to our pioneers, and we've put the first test movie out on YouTube and elsewhere.

The pack includes Obama and McCain (obviously), plus a load of useful props and set items: a 3D map of the US, lecterns, a debate stage floor, stage curtains, banners and flags, a press chair, dollar bills, an oil pump, and various logos and seals.

Of course, although we're called it an "election pack" right now (because it's topical and helps our Google rankings), it'll still be useful afterwards for all your vituperative political blogging needs. You'll have the President (well, unless by some miracle Ralph Nader wins, of course!) and some useful locations, and who knows, maybe the loser will go on to become a respected figure in the scientific community and win an Oscar for a documentary?

Release date: when QA say it's good to go!

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Sneak peek at some sneak peeks

It's been a while...

So we've cleared away the tumbleweeds from Moviestorm Mansions, rounded up our minions from where they were hiding, and interrogated them about what they've been doing for the last six weeks. Turns out they haven't all been sitting on the beach sipping pina coladas after all. They've actually been doing stuff.
  • The art team have gone and built a US election pack which will be released imminently - see the first test movie here
  • Julian has been prepping the codebase for multi-lingual support
  • Mark's been making people walk up and down stairs
  • Dave's been playing with cars and screen-spaced ambient occlusion (as seen in Far Cry 2)
  • Synnah has been working on new sounds
  • Johnnie's made a whole bunch of tutorial videos, which will be out any time now
  • Lisa and Ben have added some funky new features to the Web site which you should see in a week or so
Stay tuned for more detailed info on these during the week.

And me? I've been swanning round the place promoting Moviestorm, organising a film festival, and shooting test movies. And sitting on the beach sipping pina coladas. Well, someone had to...

Monday 4 August 2008

twak away!

i'm very sad to announce my retirement from Shortfuze since last Thursday. It's been a lot of fun (for a while i was the second programmer on Moviestorm) with a great community (the Machinima people around the net rock) and one hell of a kick-arse team.

It's high time I went to do something new - I'm heading back to university to research computer graphics. It should be a lot of fun (apart from the stinky pay)... I'm sure there's a new programmer around Cambridge waiting in the wings to take my place - any takers?

I was trying to make a fairwell film, but failed due to shoddy time constraints (and lack of coca). so just imagine for a moment twak waking from his bed at night and fleeing down a corridor - persued by one/some/more of the following:
  • an endless barrage of pink and orange shirts from management
  • the sf gent's toilet
  • endless torrents of abuse from the red hot ball of anger at the desk next to me
  • buttons ;)
he was going to get to a window and climb out through the 'o' in shortfuze and then run off to the ivory towers of academia. (But we don't have climb through winow anims or ivory towers, yet...)

I'm off for a summer holiday now - to play in the "sunshine" with my camera and new bike :)


Tuesday 29 July 2008

Moviestorm 1.1 is live!

All systems go!

Version 1.1 of Moviestorm has left the launchpad and will be available imminently. We've pressed the Big Red Button and everything is on its way to you at this very moment.

If you're already a Moviestorm user, press the Update button when you start Moviestorm and you can have all the new stuff right now. New users will have to wait another hour or so.

We'll of course have full info in the forums and on the Web site later today. Let us know what you think. We're off to crowd round Chris's monitor and look at what's next in the pipeline.

Monday 28 July 2008

Things that don't exist

Sometimes making software becomes an interesting exercise in metaphysical philosophy. Things that don't exist can be your downfall.

In this case, user directories.

We're busily running through the last minute go/no-go checks for the upcoming release, and it's all getting a little like Mission Control here...

Cowboy hat - check!


Shader model three - check!


Script slider - check!

DAVE (the other one)

Launcher is GO, repeat, launcher is GO!

COMMANDER ANDREW stretches his hand towards the big red button labelled RELEASE. An expectant hush falls across the control room. Pull back to master shot, then crane down to BEN, a scruffy-looking guy in the corner.

Er, Commander, I think we have a problem. What if you try to load a movie when there's no user directory?

Shock passes across everyone's faces. ANDREW pulls his hand back.

OK, hold it everyone. Ben, say your piece...

Well, it's only a theoretical possibility, but... what if the user stores his movies somewhere other than the default directory, and then tries to load a movie, in which case...

... there'd be no user directory, Moviestorm would lose all control, and crash into the Sun, causing a massive solar flare and the destruction of all life on Earth!

Is that bad?


(taking command)
I need an answer, people. Now. This window is closing fast. If we don't get Moviestorm off the ground now, I don't have to remind you what the consequences will be.

I'm on it, Commander!

DAVE throws a manly arm around BEN's shoulders. It’s a guy moment, as we see BEN swell with pride.

Good call, son. That took guts, but you may just have saved the whole mission.

Who said life in the software industry was ever dull, eh?

Friday 25 July 2008


From cambridge wagamama's website:

Does that man in shorts and glasses look familar? Could well be our very own Mr. Gold. Does the engineering team spend too much time at wagamama? Does programming ability increase or decrease with the quantity of noodles consumed? Does he always chat up the waitresses? All these answers and more in the next exciting episode of the moviestorm development blog.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Cheap sunglasses

Why's Johnnie wearing shades in the office?

  1. He's got a hangover?
  2. He's on the run from Swedish hit men and is in disguise?
  3. He's not really Johnnie?
  4. He's so damn cool?
  5. He thinks he's so damn cool?
  6. He's modelling for the new Moviestorm accessories pack?
  7. He's sponsored by ?
  8. He has to wear them to protect us from the laser beams in his skull?
  9. His breed don't normally go out in daylight?
  10. The sun's in his eyes? (Yeah, right. Can you see any sun in this picture?)
For the obligatory cheesy ZZ Top references, go here. Or here. Or here.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

File | Shave

We just realised. None of our programmers has a beard. Not one.

That can't be right, surely?

Still, the Art & QA teams make up for it.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Children, children!

Whose clever idea was it to label one section of the issues database Features Awaiting Redesign and Testing, purely so that all suggestions for improvement can be labelled FARTs?

Monday 14 July 2008

Triangles of Power!

How to make life complicated for your development team. Give them conflicting instructions.
  1. Simplify the user interface.
  2. Give me more functionality.

The pictures on the walls were taken from the Web. Everything else in this scene is made with standard Moviestorm assets and 1.1 preview 3. It's not about taste, it's about testing.

So they came up with these neat little triangles on the main control buttons that access the tools you need less often.

Attached to the "save" button, the "save as" feature makes a very welcome return. You have no idea how much you miss something like this until it's gone, do you? Along the same lines, we've also brought in a feature to copy a scene, which is great for experimentation or anything involving match-moving. And one more subtle change we've made is that we don't create a saved movie directory until you actually save it, so you don't end up with My Movie, part 97 cluttering up your hard disk.

Friday 11 July 2008

You can tell release is near when...

... you overhear the following exchange.
Ben: Rendering isn't exactly going as well as I might have wished.

Dave: In what way?

Ben: Like Matt said, but without so much French.

Dave: Hmmm. Any ideas, anyone?

twak: No, but I suspect I'm guilty... It's all gone a bit Friday.

Moviestorm's new look

Every time I fire up Moviestorm these days, it looks different. Here's how the main menu has changed over just the last few weeks. It feels like using a whole new app. Great work by Mitch and his crew.

Moviestorm version 1.0.4 (18 April 2008)

Moviestorm version 1.1 Preview 2 (July 4 2008)

Moviestorm 1.1 Preview 3 (current dev build, 11 July 2008)
What you can't see is that the "film strip" in the middle moves. It's cute.

Friday 20 June 2008

Machinima. It's Serious.

On Monday 23rd I'm speaking at the Serious Games conference in Cambridge. I'm doing a panel with Saint John Walker of FDMX entitled Machinima and Cineliteracy: Learning Film-Making Virtually. We're looking at ways in which machinima can be used to teach people how to express themselves audio-visually by introducing them to the grammar of film-making, and the basic concepts of choreography, cutting, and reportage. We're then exploring ways in which being able to use audio-visual media effectively can affect education methods.

It's not just a Moviestorm plug - we'll also be covering machinima made with Antics, Second Life, and others.

If you're there, come and say hello.

Monday 9 June 2008

24 inch upright

In the long standing tradition of inheriting other employees kit I've got a new monitor (sorry Ivan). Best of all it'll rotate - letting me run Moviestorm at min-res on my 19" and use my 24" upright for code editing.

Now I just want another 24 as "console output" and I'll be done.

Friday 6 June 2008

Customising stock sets

Moviestorm's stock sets are quite versatile. Even without moving anything around, you can create loads of different sets just by customising the assets that are already in there. This little clip shows what you can do with the bedroom blog stock set - see if you can spot how many individual items are changing with each dissolve!

Your score:
  • 60 or more - you're probably a professional set dresser
  • 40-59 - well spotted
  • 20-39 - you got the main ones
  • under 20 - blame it on the resolution
Each version of the bedroom took about 20 minutes to create, just by diving into the set workshop and clicking "customise" on everything possible. The poster images were grabbed off the Web.

FX: Jaw hits floor

Soon, very soon, Overman is going to release his new movie. He kindly sent us a preview. Our reaction can be summed up in Chris's awestruck comment.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our users for showing us just how fantastic Moviestorm is.
Phil is pushing Moviestorm way, way beyond the envelope. And we love it.

So, thank you, Phil. And thank you to everyone else who makes movies so that we can enjoy watching them.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Things we didn’t make

If anyone knows what a bitch it is to work with our mod tools, it’s us. And what we sent out to our pioneer users is even horribler than what we’re currently using in-house. So when we see what some people have managed to do with our shoddy tools, we’re seriously impressed. Have a quick look at these bits of work in progress.

Davidwww’s spaceship, trucks, and cityscape with curving roads

Equinoxx’s window sticker

Forgeuk’s “bloke in a jar” with custom t-shirt.

And yes, we will be releasing a proper version of the Modder’s Workshop. We will, we will! Just not this month, OK? In the meantime, well done to all of you who made it through the existing Modder’s Minefield.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

svn stat

As suggested by Anthony I ran StatSVN against the entire moviestorm repository. 90 minutes later and we have a wonderful graph:

Now this is everything, not just code, but makes for interesting viewing. I've taken the names out in the name of decency, but I can reveal that the top green line is Ben_S, Capin' Dave is Pink, and twak the second green line.

Now ben manages his massive line-change rate by endlessly editing all our xml structures. But Dave is a coder and has written 300K lines of code - the length of the entire code base. I've written another 250K (altho mostly UI twaddle, so it doesn't count). I think we've written the code base two or three times over since we've started. That's quite some code churn!

Something to mention here is that number of lines does not map onto how hard we work or how good the work is. It's certainly not indicative of quality, and quite possibly inversely proportional quality. It's an interesting metric that seems to be fairly constant for each person - does that mean some people can do the same quantity of work with fewer lines of code?

In other graph-related news - the most likely time for us to commit stuff to the repository is 4pm on a Friday - "quick it's the weekend, commit it, cheese it and hope someone else fixes it before I get in on monday" ;)

Those long tails are what singles startups out from the crowd - no option but to get it done.

Monday 19 May 2008

I'm gonna rearrange your face!

You push, you pull, and you can make people's heads behave like plasticine.

don't try this on your little sister. No, really, don't. We are highly trained professionals who are licensed to smush people's faces around. (Except, as previously noted, Mark.)

If we ask Johnnie nicely, he'll do us a video of this using a proper Moviestorm face later in the week. Morphs are getting closer...

Being John Machinima

Machinima. Machinima machinima? Machinima! Machinima machinima machinima.

Commercials really are the short film art form of today, where up and coming directors get to put all of their skill and artistry into a single minute of motion picture genius. Think of the stunning ads for the Bravia, or the Guinness ad with the giant domino, or the Honda ad with the Goldberg machine. Well, the machinima world is clearly no exception. Check out Sam "Zuckerman" Midwood's promo for the Overcast, made using the Moviestorm Sci-Fi pack, and based on a classic moment from Being John Malkovich. Superbly made, and the most unexpected use of the SF pack yet!

Thursday 15 May 2008

moviestorm vcs - 10K commits

The 10,000 (or 10K or 10^4) commit to our code/data repository happened over lunch.

Was slightly disappointed by the lack of balloons. But it proves, once and for all, who the best coder is. It was even a legitimate commit, not just to grab the top spot ;)

We keep all our changes in a big repository (SVN) so we can see each other's changes and blame them when things go wrong. Ten thousand sets of changes have been added since it started at the end of July 06.

Aren't you the new bloke?

We know artists are always reticent to show anyone what they're working on until it's completely finished, so we waited until Xav wasn't looking and grabbed a few work-in-progress shots of the upcoming male heads. These are the 3DS Max versions of the new heads, not the final Moviestorm versions, but they give you a reasonably good idea of where we're going. (They come out quite big if you click on them, and you can really see how they're constructed.)

Here we have the young black male, both with and without textures...

... and this is an older male, prior to texturing.

And here's a white male with different textures. If you look closely, the top shot shows you some of Mitch's annotations suggesting minor changes to Xav's initial version.

With luck, we'll get you a few screenshots of these guys on-set next week, and you can see exactly what they'll look like in your movies.

Monday 12 May 2008

The Moviestorm surgery team

When we wrote the job description for Moviestorm programmers, "cosmetic surgeon" wasn't one of the required life skills. As you can see, Mark probably shouldn't be let loose with a real woman and a scalpel. (To be fair, that's probably true of most people, not just Mark.) So, putting aside any considerations as to whether this constitutes an improvement in the beauty stakes, here's the first look at the head morph tools. These aren't different meshes, they're the same mesh after undergoing Mark's tender ministrations.

She's had quite a lengthy procedure, with surgery lasting, oooh, maybe two whole minutes. Changed chin, nose job, eyebrow lift, altered cheekbones and even - though you can hardly see it in this shot - ears pulled back.

Now we need to tweak our head models to use the new morphing technology, and then we can get an actual artist to create some good-looking shots and show off what you'll be able to do. I'm just hoping I can make a Danny Trejo type character - as Robert Rodriguez says, "he's got a face for hi-definition"!

What's that you say? When's it going to be released? Sssshhhh! When QA says it's ready, that's when. Don't ask me. Dick Swayze has the Power.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Instant City

Someone asked me for my old degree project, an architecture generating thingumy. While I was playing with it I realised it was trivial drop it into a quick video later and we have:

A giant disclaimer is that (if it ever makes it) this feature is a long way from prime time. However it did get me thinking about the MaMBu, and the kind of fun things we could do with Moviestorm. In the next video "jButton2" (not quite a MaMbu) generates a city every time it's clicked.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Moviestorm goes Eurovision

Last week we showed you Ben's little clip of the new singing animations. This week, we're proud to present Layla's test clip of what has to be the most garish performance arena ever.

That's not green screen or post-production. Those flashing lights on the floors and walls and the overhead thingies are all Moviestorm. (We've got pink ones and blue ones and purple ones too.)

In my mind, I'm hearing 1990s Eastern European entries for the Eurovision song contest, and really wishing I wasn't. That's got to be worse than hearing Tom Jones singing Delilah. Hasn't it? I'm now also seriously wishing I hadn't just publicly confessed to knowing what 1990s Eurovision songs sounded like.

Listen, I won't be watching it this year, I really, really won't. Not even if someone comes over on May 24 with several bottles of cheap wine and a huge bag full of snacks. Oh, now look what you made me do, Layla! Lordi were cool, OK?

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Just add music

Completely unbeknownst to me, the artists have been creating some wonderful new dance moves. Feeling somewhat funky, Ben stuck them all together (in about three minutes flat) to see how well they work. It reveals a side to Ben we never knew was there.

Groovy, baby, yeah!

Any suggestions for what music they should be singing gratefully accepted. In fact, feel free to grab the vid and stick a soundtrack on. Maybe Bryan Adams & Mel C? Why did that pop into my head?

Tuesday 22 April 2008

International talent

Sitting here in Moviestorm Mansions, I suddenly became aware of the extent to which I'm surrounded by talent from all over the world. Although Moviestorm's a British endeavour, based in Cambridge, England, we've drawn our team from far afield.

Chris is the lone Brit in the art team: alongside him we have Mitch from South Africa, Xav, who's French, and Ivan from Serbia. On the Web & community side, there's not a single Brit: John's 100% Irish, Johnnie's half Irish, Lisa's from California, and Tari is Canadian. Meanwhile QA is headed up by Dave P, who's half Polish.

Friday 18 April 2008

Back to work, minions!

The guys and gals have had a well-deserved half-hour off after getting 1.0.4 out the door, and we even kindly gave them a celebratory packet of chocolate biscuits (apart from twak who's not allowed human-type food). While they were out enjoying our phenomenal largesse, this is what we wrote on the whiteboard for them to do next.
  • Complete overhaul of camera system
  • Mark's sexy walks
  • Make the men look as good as the women
  • Face morphing
  • Character shop redesign
  • Improve the improvisor (Or is that improvise the improver?)
  • Better facial expressions
  • XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (That one's still a secret, sorry! We have to have some surprises up our sleeves!)
  • Crime (That's a content pack, not our new business model. Probably.)
That should keep them busy and out of that nasty sunlight for a while!

Thursday 17 April 2008

The QA Department: Kings of Sarcasm

It's not easy working for the Moviestorm Quality Assurance Team. You're surrounded by fools who insist on submitting obviously broken code with a comment of "What's wrong with that? It works well enough doesn't it?" The only way to keep yourself sane is with the age-old intellectual comeback, sarcasm.

Here are a few genuine examples of helpful QA contributions to team morale:
Ben_S: Hey twak, the build you committed at half-past three is a strong contender for the title of "Most Broken Build Ever". It's even better than the one you checked in last week.

Moviestorm bug number 1242 (logged by Synnah): The majority of old movie files will now fail to load. I believe what is causing it to fail is having a camera cut in the movie. As it is currently not possible to add a camera cut (the Camera view is also borked - see bug number 1241), I can't test my hypothesis.

Ben_S: (to Dave) Can your mac build PC binaries? Because if it can, I have a job for you.
Dave: (instantly) No!
Ben_S: (to twak) Is he lying?

Ben_S: (yes, again) The new launcher program is currently hard-coded to download data from our test server. We really should remember to change that before it goes live, or we'll have successfully engineered a denial-of-service attack against our own servers. Which would be bad.

Mark: (to Ben_S) Why do you always do that?
Ben_S: Do what?
Mark: You pick the most trivial, annoying, broken thing and home in on it like a ... a ... homing thing.

Ben_S: I'm not being too demanding in asking for a build that actually starts, am I?
[insert more insulting QA arrogance ad nauseam]

And finally, a bug from our bug database that was filed by Synnah in response to the first draft of a flash video tutorial.
MS-1227: Subtitle issues with the 'Moving Around' tutorial
Steps to Reproduce:
1. Run the tutorial with Closed Captioning on.
2. Use eyes to see words.
3. Use ears to hear words.
4. Notice the frequent discrepancy 'twixt the two senses.
The issue was eventually closed, with the magnificently poetic comment:
'Pon my troth, Sirrah, mine eyes do now perceive what mine ears do attend. Verily hath thine sage council been paid want, as thine own dear merits must attest. And like an errant cur unto the bosom of his master, this issue to thine noble countenance doth request resolution.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Nearly there....

Latest news on the 1.0.4 release - just one more bug to fix before it's ready to ship.

Mind you, they said that this time yesterday, and then QA found another one... I'm sure they do it on purpose.

Monday 14 April 2008

Once more ... with feeling!

One of the new features in Moviestorm release 1.0.4 will be the new gesturiser interface.

You add gestures in the same way as before, using the ring menu, but now you get this little tool - with explanatory text! To add a gesture, click the + button at the left of the micro-timeline track.

Now you get a collapsible list of all the gestures you can add. The little red arrows indicate whether the gesture is "complete" (i.e. it takes you back to the standard idle pose afterwards) or "incomplete" (i.e. there are one or more follow-on gestures you can do afterwards, like you get with most of the dance moves, for example). The gesturiser now understands these "gesture chains" properly, so you can only add gestures that follow smoothly, and you won't get nearly as many of those annoying jumps and discontinuities between animations.

There are a lot of gestures (about 2000 separate animations all told in the dev version I'm running, which includes all the add-on packs we've released, and quite a few we haven't). This gets seriously unwieldy to browse through, so if you hit Filter (at the bottom of the list) you get a tag cloud which narrows your search down.

When you find a gesture you like, click the right arrow just by the micro-timeline and your gesture pops onto the track. You can now scrub it, drag it, and so on.

To add more gestures, just keep adding to the existing track, and they'll get put onto the end, or else, as here, click the + next to a new track to have several gestures going on at once.

One new feature that doesn't show up too well (unless you click on the picture above and get it full size) is that when you click on a gesture in the list, the character performs the action. Here, Melissa's previewing a "wave". This allows you to see what you're going to get, rather than trying something and then finding it isn't what you wanted after all. It's one of those tiny little changes that means that adding performance and characterisation to a scene becomes a whole lot easier.

And, hidden away where nobody except twak will ever find it, is are the hooks for a cunning piece of code that will enable us - in some future release - to add in a really powerful little feature. What we're planning is to have three different ways to drag activities on the micro-timeline. The basic drag will move an activity along the timeline exactly as it does now. The two other drags will enable you to change the duration of the activity in different ways. One changes the duration of an activity, so you can do it slower or faster; the other simply repeats the activity for as long as you want. This is dead handy for things like guitar animations - you just say "play the guitar", drag it to the right speed, then drag it out for a minute or so, and you have an instant backing musician.

Friday 11 April 2008

Pause, take a deep breath, carry on...

It's been a long, long haul between releases this time, but the finishing post is on sight. Assuming Dick Swayze doesn't find any more last-minute nasties, 1.0.4 should be good to go early next week.

This has been one of our biggest sprints to date. Just to summarise, this release includes:
  • New timeline UI
  • New gesturiser UI, including gesture previewer
  • Better faces
  • Improved ambient shadowing
  • Name tags in director's view
  • Miscellaneous performance & memory improvements
  • Various new features to support the upcoming Sci-Fi pack
  • New start sequence
  • Change to way you load movies
  • New launcher and update mechanism
  • New mouse bindings for set navigation
  • Improved walk pathing and step animations, and less sliding around
  • Better rendering, especially for close-ups
  • New female faces and hair
  • Guns now have muzzle flashes
  • New mouse cursors to show what you can do with a prop or other object
  • Pack names shown in tag browser for props
  • Fixes to cutting room
  • Improvements to the way props are held
  • ... and a host of miscellaneous tweaks, fixes, and improvements!
So, we're going to award ourselves a weekend off, enjoy the sunshine if there is any, and then start work on the next release...

What's in a name?

Another of the small but important upcoming changes for the next release is.... well, look at the picture, and see if you can work out which one's Bill and which one's Ben.

In best WoW style, characters have names over their heads in the director's view. It's a feature that's been on the to-do list for - literally - years, but only just made it to the do-it-now list. Largely, I suspect, because in the words of our revered Chief Architect of the Moviestorm Universe, "you have no bloody idea how hard that was to get right". (It's true, I have no idea, and don't really want to know. He started to explain, but then I found myself coming over all light-headed and had to go and lie down in a dark room until I felt better. Anyway, it's done now, that's all I care about. Programmers are supposed to do complicated stuff and make it look easy. They don't need sleep, sunlight, or green vegetables. How else do they maintain their elitist aura of mystique and techno-smugness?)

For such a small change, it makes life so much easier, it's unbelievable. It's now completely obvious who the active character is, and you can find them on the set almost instantly. There's no more messing around with the character list trying to remember which of the extras is "passerby 1" and which is "passerby 2".

The good stuff just keeps on a-coming, don't it?

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Things you don't see

Adding new features or new artwork into Moviestorm is great. We all get to crane our necks over someone's monitor and go "oooooh". Then we make test movies which show off the new new stuff, and we can all see the results right away. And, of course, we can post nice screenies up here so you guys can go "oooooh" as well. We like that, yessir, we do. It makes us feel good.

However, a lot of what the code monkeys get up to has absolutely no visible benefit, isn't glamorous, and doesn't have any "wow factor" at all. For this upcoming release, for example, they've addressed a nagging memory issue. Whenever you switched scenes, the memory usage gradually built up, until MS was chewing up ridiculous amounts of memory and basically ground your entire machine to a halt. They've also fixed a horrid little bug where cancelling a render from a single camera could - sometimes - cause a crash. Plus they've been nibbling away at issues such as load times, graphics card support, and tiny little performance issues. Each little tweak may only improve things by 5%, so it's hardly even perceptible, but with enough of them, that adds up over time to a much faster and smoother app.

Something which is much more obvious when you're using MS, but still isn't the kind of news you go shouting from the rooftops, is that we've still been bashing away at the mouse bindings for set navigation and camera framing, trying to get something which is intuitive, consistent with what different people expect, and enables you to do all the things you need in a film tool. I don't know how many different bindings we've tried over the last two years, trying to take into account Mac users, different types of game UI, different types of 3D package UI, and so on, not to mention different people's tastes. The only way to do it is to try something, and then use it for a month or two, and see whether it "feels right" after you unlearn the previous version, and once you have any new features in and working. I've been using the new controls for a about three weeks now, and I'm finding them much better, although I do find myself occasionally reverting to the old way unconsciously. Going back to using 1.0.3 for demos feels quite clunky by comparison.

I could go on for pages, listing all the tedious and insignificant issues in our bug database that they address every day, but I'd get bored writing them and you'd get bored reading them. With around 300,000 lines of code in Moviestorm at the last count (and more every day), there are always niggling little errors to chase down and fix. And, just to add injury to insult, it's usually dealing with those evil little bugs deep down in the architecture that causes everything to fall over in a big stinking heap and stop working, at which point everyone else in the building starts to swear, curse, and bang their heads on their keyboards because their movie just broke.

It's a bug. (A stink bug, if you must know.) I just don't like posting without at least one picture. Plain text is just so 19th century!

These hidden changes aren't revolutionary, interesting to look at or world-shattering, but when you put them all together, that's how we make Moviestorm easier and nicer to use. In the background, we just keep grinding away. It's gonna be worth it.

OK, that's enough of the boring stuff. We'll have something pretty to show you tomorrow.

Spot the difference

Look closely at these two screenshots, and see if you can see what's changed between the current version 1.0.3 and the upcoming 1.0.4 release, which is currently going through final QA. (You may find it easier to click on the images and view them larger.)

Version 1.0.3

Version 1.0.4


OK, look at the shadows under the two chairs. In the 1.0.3 version, you'll see nasty little lines. They don't look too bad in stills, but when you shoot actual footage, especially if you have moving cameras, they really look horrible. They flicker and flash, and they're seriously annoying and distracting. In the 1.0.4 version, you just have the shadows you'd expect, without the artifacts.

For the non-technical among you, this is a phenomenon called "z-fighting". What's happening is that the ambient shadows cast onto the floor by the chairs and the sofa end up in the same plane. This confuses the renderer, because it has two things in the same place. We've already eliminated a lot of the z-fighting issues, but clashing between ambient shadows is one we'd missed, as it only happens when you put things like furniture too close together.

And now it's fixed. From 1.0.4. onwards, your sets should look much nicer. It's a small fix, but one which has a huge effect on the look of your films.