Wednesday 20 October 2010

One, two, three. THREE?

One of the things we're currently looking at - and before you get your hopes up, this is firmly in the category of "when it's ready" - is animations involving more than two characters. This was something we've decided we need to do to improve our fight scenes, and something that's been on the wish list for about five years. Way back when we wrote the first spec, we were throwing around ideas about movie cliches. Here are a few that came up in the section on fighting:
  • One guy pins another guy's arm behind his back while a third socks him in the stomach.
  • A wounded guy is carried with his arms around the shoulders of two others.
  • Caught in an alley, fighting the guy in front, get sapped from behind (or kidney punched).
  • Caught by a mob.
  • Step between two fighters, push them apart. (Referee?)
They're all great movie moments, but all of these require three or more characters to be closely involved in the action. And that, according to the guys building it, is a real challenge.

Animating one character is tricky enough, when you think of how many different actions you need to combine (walking, talking, breathing, holding something, gesturing, and so on). Animating two characters working together is really hard. You have to make sure they fit together without intersecting or missing. According to one of the guys working on The Sims 3, they spent several years trying to get two characters to walk hand in hand, and they eventually gave up. If you look closely at any game, you'll see people intersecting or air kissing. That usually doesn't matter in a game, where you're focusing on getting through the level or landing that dream job. But in a movie, where the viewer is focused on the characters, it's a big problem.
We have some two-person animations. Not as many as we'd like, admittedly, but enough to have some basic character interaction.

But now we're going to have a go at three person animations. We won't get everything on that list above, and it may take a while, but hey - we'll see what we can do.

Monday 18 October 2010


The Tender Tab

You may have noticed a small tab on the right of the Moviestorm front page for the last few weeks. We've recently been trialling a new support system, called Tender, as an alternative to the Knowledgebase / FAQ / email / help forums we've been using for the last few years. With the number of support queries we had coming in via different routes, we were starting to lose track of them. We didn't have a way to keep track of who was answering what, who was waiting for responses from customers, or anything like that. So Ben, Johnnie, Amos, Chris, Alex and everyone else just piled in and hoped for the best. It's worked pretty well until now, but we felt we needed to be a little more organised about everything.

Query entry and knowledgebase

Here's how it works. Click the tab (or go to You can now enter your query or search the knowledgebase to see if someone's already answered your questions. When we get a query, it's logged in our system, and gets assigned to one of us. You immediately get a confirmation email which will, in due course, include links to relevant support articles. We've found that many of the questions we get have already been answered, so this hopefully means about 60% of problems will get solved instantly. We'll then get back to you as soon as we can, usually on the next working day. Our stats show that right now we're answering all questions in an average of one day, which we're quite pleased with.

This opens up a discussion, so we can go back and forth with you until we've dealt with your issue. You can attach files, include links, and so on, as you'd expect.

Discussion page

One big advantage is that unlike the forums, all issues can be kept private. This means you don't have to worry about what other people will think, or deal with idiots posting unhelpful comments on your query. If , once we're finished, you're happy to make the discussion public so that others can learn from it, that's something we can do.

Over the next few weeks or months, we'll probably move a lot of stuff over to Tender, so we don't have to maintain things like the FAQ separately. The help forum will stay, but we'll be regarding that as a more informal support system, where you'll be just as likely to get help from another Moviestorm user as from one of us.

Obviously, the main reason we're doing this is to make our own lives easier. However, the aim is to provide you with a better service at the same time. We'd love to get your feedback on the new system, so please let us know what you think, and how it compares to using the forums.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Moviestorm 1.4.2

Moviestorm 1.4.2 looks like it's going to be a fairly modest release. We're mainly focusing on papercuts and making some changes to the launcher. Yeah, we know, the launcher's not a particularly exciting part of Moviestorm, but it something that we have to give some attention to every so often. The idea is that Moviestorm will start up faster and it'll be less awkward having to restart it when you make changes to settings. We're also working on a background downloader so that you can get on with making your movies while it's grabbing new content packs or updates. So, as we said, not exciting stuff, but it'll make everything feel slicker right from the get-go.

We're also working on the codec support inside Moviestorm. As anyone who's done video editing can tell you, codecs are a black art. Sometimes you render your movie and it all works just fine, other times you end up with an unholy mess that's ten times bigger than you thought it would be, full of horrible artifacts, doesn't upload to your Web site or import into your video editor, and all the faces are bright blue. We're digging into this and seeing what we can do to make it easier and give you more options. One upshot of this is that we'll probably end up giving you more options for formats Moviestorm will accept, such as Ogg/Theora, and you'll also, at long last, be able to import video clips into the cutting room. It's too early to say whether any of this will make it into 1.4.2 (or indeed when 1.4.2 will actually be shipped), but we figured you'd like to know it's on our mind.

Monday 4 October 2010

Halloween horror, 2010

We've done a Halloween pack for the last couple of years, mainly because Chris just loves all that kind of stuff. In 2008 we gave you a bunch of traditional trick or treat goodies, and in 2009 we gave you a huge selection of monsters.

This year, we're knocking the Photostorm Bones stuff into shape, updating it slightly, and adding in a couple of new bits, and we're going to get that out to you some time this week. If you've already got Bones, we've added Graveyard Grass, some silhouettes, and a less complicated animation for getting your characters to start in the grave, so that they can do the "rise from grave" thing properly.

Happy screaming!