KellyM

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  1. Autodesk Maya 2016 is now out and available. Although I'm not too happy about the main interface changes, other changes like the overhauled Hypergraph interface are welcomed and long overdue. Improvements in the Modeling toolkit and more effects in Bifrost are good to see and the new Profiler tool makes me wonder how I lived without it all these years. Integrating the Mudbox Sculpting tools into Maya is a great improvement and other small improvements like the Delta Mush deformer are huge time savers. Interface Changes Maya 2016 has gone over to the dark side. The main background interface color is now a dark gray. There have been studies that most CG users work in low-light environments and that darker colors cause less eye strain when burning the midnight oil. I personally feel it is more of a user preference and I like the lighter colors. The good news is that you can easily switch color schemes if you want. There have been lots of subtle changes to the Maya interface in this release and I found myself hunting for commands at times. There is a helpful Find Menu option in the Help menu that will help you locate any commands you can't find. The most annoying change was that the menu set hotkeys changed, but you can switch them back if you want. The Shelf interface also changed quite a bit with the Curves shelf rolled into the Surfaces shelf and the new Rigging, Sculpting and FX shelves. Several other shelves including PaintEffects, Toon, Muscle, Hair and Fur are hidden by default. All the Shelf icons have also changed. This change made it easier to scale the interface for different displays and resolutions including support for touch screens, but as an experience user, I find it frustrating to have to learn the new icons. These icons are also used in the main menus and in the marking menus. To help in learning the new icons, the development team has color coded them based on function, so all the polygon oriented commands are orange and the surface and curve commands are blue. The Hotkey Editor also changed, but this is a great change. It includes a keyboard visual and shows automatically which keys are used when the Shift, Ctrl, Alt or Command key are pressed. This lets you quickly see which hotkeys are still available to be assigned. There is also a search command for finding specific commands. Another nice new addition is that the Text tool can now use all OpenType, TrueType and Postscript fonts that are available on the system. Improving Animation Playback Within the Animation section of the Preferences dialog box are two new evaluation modes that you can enable. The Parallel evaluation mode increases overall animation playback by using all the cores in parallel. The Serial evaluation mode uses only a single core for playback. There is also a GPU Override option lets you take advantage of any GPU processors on your installed graphics card. You can also display any evaluation data in the heads-up display and there is also a new Profile tool, shown in Figure 1, lets you see a graph how much time each process takes to display the scene. Using this tool, you can quickly identify those objects in the scene that take too long to render compared to the other scene elements. For game developers, this provides a quick and easy way to compare all the elements in a scene. Figure 1: The Profiler tool shows in a graph how much time each animation process takes. Image courtesy of Autodesk. Using the New Sculpting Toolset Maya 2016 includes a full set of sculpting tools taken from Autodesk's own Mudbox package. Selecting the new Sculpting Shelf opens an array of different sculpting tools. The Visor also includes several sculpting presets that you can practice on, like the T-Rex in Figure 2. The Sculpting Shelf includes tools for Sculpt, Smooth, Relax, Grab, Pinch, Flatten, Foamy, Spray, Repeat, etc. Each tool has its own settings that you can access in the Tools Settings dialog box. There is also a symmetry setting for mirroring any changes to the opposite side of the model simultaneously. For more control over the sculpting tools, you can use a graphics tablet. To prevent unwanted changes, you can select a region of vertices and freeze them. The Sculpting tools are also integrated with the Blend Shape Editor, allowing you to create animated morphs of objects. Figure 2: The Sculpting toolkit includes a variety of different sculpting tools that are used directly within the viewport. Overhauled Hypershade Maya's Hypershade interface for creating shaders has been completely redesigned. You can access the new Hypershade interface using a button on the Status Line. The new interface includes a node editing interface that you can use to attach node inputs and outputs. Also, each node only displays by default the most commonly used attributes to help keep the panel small and simple or you can open the full Attribute Editor to see all the properties. The new interface, shown in Figure 3, also lets you dock several panels anywhere you choose and you can open several different shader trees within their own tab to work on several shaders at once. Figure 3: The Hypershade interface has been completely overhauled for Maya 2016. Image courtesy of Autodesk. There is also a new Soloing feature that you can use to isolate the display of any single node independent of the others. The new Material Viewer panel lets you see the render results of any shader including bump maps and textures in real-time. You can also select from several different preview objects include spheres, planes, cloth and teapot and also from several unique interior and exterior HDR environments. Bifrost Improvements Maya 2016 has added some new features to the Bifrost simulation engine including the ability to simulate fire, smoke, cloud and fog effects. This new set of effects is called Bifrost Aero. Foam effects, like those shown in Figure 4, have also been added to the water simulation tools including bubbles and spray effects. The foam particles can be set to appear based on the distance from the camera so that those areas close to the camera are rendered at the highest resolution. Figure 4: Foam and water spray effects have been added to the Bifrost simulation engine. Image courtesy of Autodesk Bifrost now includes new attributes for defining Surface Tension and Viscosity, so you can now create a simulation where the oceans are filled with honey or molasses. XGen Shading XGen has been updated with several new nodes including a node that lets you change the color of XGen hair. New nodes can use a texture to color the hair or a ramp to change the hair color from root to tip. There are now also a new set of XGen hair presets and instanced geometries that you can choose from. You can also save existing setups as presets to be used later. Color Management Maya 2016 has a new Color Management system based on Autodesk Color Management. This technology is included in multiple Autodesk products providing a consistent look across their products. You can also define a set of rules for all imported images that are used in the rendering pipeline. Game Exporter Maya 2016 includes an improved Game Exporter dialog box for exporting models and animation clips. You can select to export all objects in a single FBX file or to export each object as a separate FBX file. You can also save out FBX setting presets to insure that all exported elements use the same settings. The File menu also includes options to Send to Unity and to Send to Unreal built-in. Delta Mush Deformer Getting a skin mesh to work with a rig can be a real challenge, but Maya 2016 has a new deformer that helps automatically correct many of the common problems that happen when animating a rig. The new Delta Mush deformer is used to smooth out the motion of an animated skin. The default application of this deformer does a great job in fixing skin problems where the skin weights are out of line. Other Improvements Maya 2016 also includes a large number of small improvements scattered across the existing features. The UV Editor now includes several brushes for working with UVs including Unfold, Optimize, Cut, Sew and Pin tools. You can also select and work with edge loops and rings in the UV Editor. The Multi-Cut tool has been updated allowing better snapping and the ability to make 90-degree cuts. There is also a new pivot editing workflow that makes it easier to align objects and to snap pivots to specific locations. If you hold down the Ctrl key while moving a component with the Move tool, the component moves along its normal. This is a nice new feature and a real time-saver. For polygons, the Hard Edge display mode lets you see any edges marked as hard edges without all the wireframe edges. When animated objects move about the scene, you can now set their Motion Trails to fade after a given number of frames. You can also use the new Anchor Transforms option to see the motion of a single object relative to the other objects. Summary Although I get really nervous anytime a software team messes with the user interface, there aren't any changes here that can't be undone and with time the new interface will become familiar. For the Hypershade interface, however, I'm thrilled to see the new changes. The old Hypershade was clunky and difficult to use, but the new one makes sense and lets me see the changes as they are made. The new Sculpting interface is also refreshing and I love to see the new Bifrost and XGen features. It is also nice to see support for game engines built into the package. Finally, the Profile tool is a great new enhancement giving users the ability to see where potential problems are in their animations. This also works great in preparing animations for a game engine. Maya 2016 is available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS X. For more information on any of these products, visit the Autodesk web site located at www.autodesk.com. A free trial version is also available at www.autodesk.com/freetrials.
  2. Once again, the latest release of 3ds Max includes a bevy of new features. Some of these features are major and present full-blown interfaces like the new Max Creation Graph and others are minor, but still impressive, that will make us wonder how we ever lived without them like the Physical Camera, the Camera Sequencer and support for Templates. Collectively, all the new changes make for the best version of 3ds Max yet. Max Creation Graph One of the greatest aspects of 3ds Max is its scripting interface, MaxScript. This powerful set of tools enables you to extend the functionality of the software any multiple ways. If a feature doesn't work the way you'd like, you can tweak it to fit your needs. The only problem with MaxScript is that you need to be familiar with programming constructs to take advantage of it. This equates to an automatic dismissal to most users. To make MaxScript more accessible and user friendly, the wizards at Autodesk have created a new way to build custom tools. This new feature is called Max Creation Graph or MCG for short. Max Creation Graph is essentially a visual interface for creating MaxScript code. It works by wiring together several different nodes in a manner similar to the Slate Material Editor. Using these nodes, you can create procedural content, modifiers, and unique tools. If you've worked hard on a unique graph, then you can save it as a compound that can be easily reused to build even more complex functionality. Figure 1 shows a simple Max Creation Graph (MCG) used to create a new modifier that implodes the current object. Max Creation Graph tools are easy to share also. Before building your own, you can look online for some interesting graphs to get you started. Some of the more interesting graphs available online let you instantly create a building. It also includes parameters that let you edit the size, shape and style of the new building along with full control over the applied texture map. If you're not sure where to start, check out Christopher Diggins's Blog (he was the developer behind MCG): http://area.autodesk.com/blogs/chris and one of the MCG Facebook groups that's been created by users: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1611269852441897/ Figure 1: Max Computer Graph (MCG) enable you to extend the functionality of 3ds Max using a visual node-based interface. Image courtesy of Autodesk Camera Sequencer In previous versions of 3ds Max, you could create a multi-camera animation using the Video Post interface, but this method was clunky and required a lot of steps. You could also render out each little piece and combine them in another external video editing package, another solution which was also clunky. Rather than add a whole new video editing toolset within 3ds Max, the developers built a Camera Sequencer that lets you choose which camera is used during which frames. It is a simple solution that fits easily within the timeline without all the overhead. The new Camera Sequencer lets you cut between cameras, trim and reorder shot sequences by simply dragging within a modified timeline built into the State Sets interface. All these actions are done without changing the overall animation in any way. Open SubDiv Support 3ds Max 2016 includes support for the OpenSubDiv modeling construct. This format can take advantage of parallel CPU and advanced GPU architectures for faster viewport display. Within 3ds Max 2016, you can also define hard edges using the new Crease and CreaseSet modifiers. Figure 2: Support for the OpenSubDiv format takes advantage of advanced GPU systems for faster viewing. Cloud Rendering 3ds Max 2016 includes the ability to render using the Autodesk 360 cloud servers. Each render costs a number of credits, but it is a huge time-saver at certain times. The Cloud rendering option is included within the Render Scene dialog box. New Physical Camera The traditional cameras in 3ds Max were great, but they weren't based on any real-world settings, so trying to duplicate an animation created for pre-visualization was a task in trial and error. With the new Physical Camera feature, cameras now include settings for Shutter Speed, Aperture, Depth of Field and Exposure making it easy to match real-world cameras to the virtual ones. iray and mental ray Improvements 3ds Max 2016 includes the latest versions of iray and mental ray. New to iray are Light Path Expressions. These let you isolate specific lights and/or geometry objects based on layers and change their settings during post production. iray also includes a Section Plane option for looking inside a designated section. There is also a new Irradiance render element. New to mental ray 3.13 is the Light Importance Sampling feature, which lets you specify which areas are rendered in higher detail. There is also a new Ambient Occlusion render element. Better Skin with the Dual Quaternion Option For character animation, the addition of the Dual Quaternion option in the Skin modifier lets you eliminate unrealistic effects caused by twisting adjacent bones that makes the underlying skin collapse. With the Dual Quaternion options, you can paint skin weights to control the amount of influence the bones have over the surface. By targeting the areas where collapsing takes place with this skin weighting option, you can eliminate major collapse problems. Support for Stingray I don't know if you saw the press releases this summer for Stingray, but Autodesk officially now owns its own game engine and 3ds Max has been upgraded with features that make it easy to move your 3d assets directly to this game engine. Using a feature called a Live Link, you can sync objects created in 3ds Max with the Stingray game engine to see the changes immediately. To learn more about the Stingray game engine, visit the site at www.autodesk.com/stingrayengine. Also, the ShaderFX interface has been upgraded to allow you to create shaders for the Stingray game engine. Templates Several new templates appear in the Welcome screen (Figure 3) that first greets new users. The default templates are for creating an Architectural Outdoor scene using real-world lighting, an Outdoor HDRI Courtyard template with image-based lighting, a Studio Scene template for indoor lighting configurations and even an Underwater template. These templates automatically adjust the environment settings including system units, rendering and lighting settings needed for each of the various conditions and provide a quick jumpstart for excellent results. Figure 3: Start-Up Templates let you get a jump-start on the creation of your scene with lighting setting pre-configured. There is also a Template Manager that you can use to create new templates and to edit existing templates. Once defined, templates can be quickly shared across an organization saving valuable time and insuring consistent settings for multiple projects and users. Selection Highlighting Especially for new users or for those working with a complex scene, finding the exact object that you want to work with can be tricky. To solve this dilemma, 3ds Max 2016 includes a new Selection Highlight feature. This option highlights the selected object with a blue outline and any other object that can be selected is highlighted in yellow as the mouse cursor moves over them, as shown in Figure 4. This feature makes it easy to be sure that you are selecting the correct object. This option can also be disabled if it gets annoying. Figure 4: Selection Highlighting makes it easy to locate and select the exact object you need. Other Improvements 3ds Max 2016 includes support for touch panels such as the Wacom Intuos 5 and the Cintiq 24HD Touch, including the ability to navigate a scene using finger gestures. Zooming a scene is accomplished by pressing with a finger and thumb and then separating them to zoom out or bringing them closer together to zoom in. Panning the scene is accomplished by swiping with two fingers. Tumbling the scene is accomplished with a single finger swipe and tapping with two fingers returns to the home view. Another new improvement to the Chamfer modifier lets you apply all chamfers as quad-only results. You can also control the tension of the applied chamfer and apply a different material to the chamfered results. The Alembic format is supported in 3ds Max 2016. This lets you bake animated data into a small, easily transported format for sharing with others or for improved playback. Using the Autodesk Translation Framework (ATF) import and export settings, you can now have a way to share data with SolidWorks CAD data models. Finally, the Text spline primitive can now use OpenType fonts for creating letters in a scene. Summary With the large variety of new features, there are plenty to explore. I personally love the new Max Creation Graph interface for not only creating my own new tools, but to download and check out the amazing work of others. New tools are sprouting up to easily accomplish all sorts of new features. Other new favorites are the Camera Sequencer and the Live Link with the Stingray game engine. If you get a chance to use the new Stingray engine, this feature is awesome and saves tons of time in checking out assets. I'm also happy to see the new Alembic and OpenSubDiv formats supported. These make is so much easier to work between 3ds Max and Maya and the ATF makes it possible to interface with SolidWorks finally. 3ds Max 2016 is available as a stand-alone product. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite, bundled with Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, MotionBuilder, Softimage, and Sketchbook Designer. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as a subscription for a nominal fee. The subscription model offers free upgrades as extensions become available. For more information on 3ds Max 2016, visit the Max product pages on Autodesk's web site at http://usa.autodesk.com. A free trial version of 3ds Max is also available at www.autodesk.com/3dsmaxtrial.
  3. Autodesk Maya 2013 Review

    Autodesk Maya 2013 software is available as a stand-alone product; as part of the Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2013, which includes Maya, Mudbox, MotionBuilder and Sketchbook Designer; as part of the Premium Suite which adds Softimage to the mix; and as part of the Ultimate Suite, which also includes 3ds Max. So, there are several different packages that include Maya. If you plan on working between the different tools, then the suites are definitely the way to go. There are some cool features such as the Send To commands and Live Connection that share data between different suite applications and that are only available within a suite. Pipeline Caching and Alembic Files If you've created a seriously huge model environment or an animated character that is really complex, or a particle simulation that plays back a turtle-speed, then you know the pain of single-digit frame rates. Maya 2013 has a new Pipeline Cache set of tools that lets you save either the entire scene or a selected object as a cached files using the open-source Alembic file format. These saved cached files can then be loaded back into the scene and played back or navigated at a dramatically faster frame rate. This is ideal for moving about a huge data model or playing back just a particle system at a reasonable rate. The Pipeline Cache menu includes options to export and import files as an Alembic or GPU cache. There are several differences between these two options, but the key visual differences are that the GPU version displays the scene without any textures, only RGBA colors. The GPU cache options also collapses the node hierarchy to a single node making the geometry so it cannot be edited. The benefit for these trade-offs is blinding fast movement about huge scene files. Importing the file as a Alembic cache file isn't quite as fast, but allows editing of geometry and displays applied textures. Both file types use the same Alembic file saved with the .abc extension. For game developers, this feature lets you load a cached version of a completed environment and move through it at a fast frame rate just like the game player would providing the much needed immediate feedback in the Maya interface, as shown in Figure 1, without having to compile and transport the scene to the game engine. Figure 1: Using the new Pipeline Cache feature you can load and navigate huge data files at a high frame rate. Image courtesy of Autodesk Node Editor and Attribute Editor Templates Maya has always been great at letting you get under the hood and tweak various aspects of the current scene and the new Node Editor makes it even easier to work with and tweak individual nodes. This Node Editor, shown in Figure 2, lets you interactively create connections between different attributes which makes it great for creating shading networks. The Node Editor has several display modes including Simple, Connected and Full mode and lets you create bookmarks to find your way back to a specific view. Figure 2: The new Node Editor lets you visualize the connections between nodes and interactively create connections between different attributes. Using a text editor, you can create and edit XML-based Attribute Editor templates that let you specify which attributes are visible in the Attribute Editor for specific node types. This tool is available as a Bonus Tool which you can download using the Help menu. Access References in the Outliner References are great, especially for a team environment, where several artists are working on different pieces of the scene. They let you load in the current version and update it when a newer version is available. Creating, loading and unloading references are easier than ever now that the Outliner includes its new Reference menu. Using this menu, you can create references, load and unload and even export scene objects as references without having to open the Reference Editor. There is also an option to allow animation curves from referenced files to be edited directly without having to reopen the referenced file. Working with Characters Maya 2013 includes many new improvements for working with characters, but of all the improvements, I think the new Heat Map skinning method takes the cake. Traditionally skinning a character with weights is one of the hardest aspects of character creation, but the new Heat Map option in Maya 2013 make the process much easier. This option sets skin weights by treating each influence object as a heat source which cools as you move further from the heat source. The results are much better than the other methods and requires less tweaking to get the skin weights right. The revolutionary Character Controls that were introduced in the previous edition of Maya has been improved in a number of ways to make working with characters even easier. The various Character Controls have all been combined into a single interface with tabs available for Skeleton, Definition, Controls and Custom Rigs, as shown in Figure 3. The basketball character shown in the figure was loaded from the Maya Visor interface and provides a good example. There is also a new Start Pane to walks you through a character setup. The controls have been opened up so you can define your own custom character templates. Figure 3: All the available Character Controls are now together in a simplified interface making it easier to rig characters. Animation Improvements Maya 2013 includes a new Retime Tool that works within the Graph Editor, shown in Figure 4. This tool places visual bars at specific points in the timeline and once placed, you can scale all the animation keys located between those bars by dragging to the left or right which speeds or slows down the animation that is adjacent to the bar's position. You can also lock the bars so that certain sections of animation aren't changed. This gives animators a lot of local control over their animations. Figure 4: Using the Retime Tool, you can easily speed up or slow down specific areas of your animation. Retargeting is the magic bullet that lets you reuse animations over and over, but often this is more work than just redoing the animation, but with the new .atom file format, Maya 2013 lets you reuse animations effectively. The .atom file format stands for Animation Transfer Object Model and while importing you can have it match the character hierarchy, match according to joint names or by using a filter template. Once matched up to the current rig, the loaded animation is applied to the new character saving you the trouble of animating from scratch. When working with separate clips in the Trax Editor, Maya 2013 includes a new Offset setting and a Match Clips feature that lets you match up the clips for better transitions. You can select to Match Translation or Rotation. You can also turn on ghosting to see the clips motion leading to the current frame. Maya nHair and Bullet Physics nHair has been added to the Nucleus dynamic simulation framework, which enables the nHair to detect collisions with itself and with other Nucleus objects. It also works much faster than the previous hair system in Maya and has more accurate collision detection. The system also includes a caching feature for saving and playing back hair simulations. The MayaBullet physics system is also included within Maya 2013. This system, which is installed as a plug-in, includes support for both soft and rigid body dynamics. MayaBullet is only available on 64-bit system and will not work on 32-bit machines. Viewport 2.0 The Viewport improvements continue to be added to Maya providing a better representation of the scene without having to render the scene. The newest improvements include ghosting features, depth peeling for transparency, single side lighting, better control over lighting effects and area lights. There is also a large number of texture types that are internally baked and you now have control over the viewport fonts and sizes. Sharing Data with 3ds Max and Live Character Streaming In the "playing nice with others" category, the File menu includes a new Send to 3ds Max command that moves the current scene over to the 3ds Max. Once loaded in both programs, you can make changes and updates the changes to the other program automatically using the handy little Update icon placed at the bottom of both packages. Be warned that this feature only works between copies of the software that share the same version number. Another new features found in 3ds Max is that CAT characters created in 3ds Max can be converted to a HumanIK character for use in Maya. This lets you work with characters in either Maya and 3ds Max and move the results to the other software without losing any work. You can also work with characters between Maya and MotionBuilder by setting up a Live Connection for your HumanIK character. This lets you stream motion capture data applied in MotionBuilder straight to your Maya rig in real-time. This Live Connection is created using the Edit menu or the File, Send To MotionBuilder menu. This causes a Live Connection dialog box to appear which lets you synch the states in the two programs. Once you are happy with the character motion, you can bake the result to the Maya skeleton. Other Improvements The Help menu includes a new helpful feature for checking for updates. This opens a dialog box and displays any available hotfixes or service packs. Maya 2013 can now use the H.264 QuickTime option to output video on 64-bit systems. There are two new render pass options for UV and World Position. The UV pass converts UV values to red and green values and the World Position pass converts position values to RGB values. For creating unique textures, the new Mandelbrot texture node has been included. This node lets you add fractals to your textures. Several new Substance textures have been added to Maya 2013. Substance textures are programmed procedural textures that have a much smaller file size than normal bitmap based textures. The new textures include animated clouds, tiles, metal plates, sunshine, water drips, waves, windscreen glass and more. mental ray has also been upgraded to version 3.10. Summary The 2013 version of Maya once again shows Maya commitment to helping game developers, especially character animators. This version tackles some of the toughest aspects of the pipeline with unique solutions. Another key area of focus is between the different suite applications making them work better together than ever before. The improvements to Viewport 2.0 and the new Pipeline Cache feature let you see your results quicker with fewer renders letting you work with production quality assets during the development phase. Maya 2013 is available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS X. The various Entertainment Creation Suite editions are all available for Windows. For more information on any of these products, visit the Autodesk web site located at www.autodesk.com. A free trial version is also available at www.autodesk.com/freetrials.
  4. 3ds Max 2013 Review

    Introduction 3ds Max 2013 is available as a stand-alone package or as part of a suite of tools and, for the first time, Autodesk is also offering an Ultimate Suite that includes both 3ds Max and Maya together along with the other suite packages. This provides a solution to artists that lets them choose the best tool for the task at hand instead of deciding at the project's start which package to stick with. The 2013 version of 3ds Max includes, as usual, a long list of new and improved features for game, design, visualization and CAD users. For game developers, there are many improvements focused on making it easier than ever to work with characters and for the design users, features such as support for importing multiple CAD formats is a much needed addition. Render Pass Management with the State Sets Interface Each release includes lots of little changes and a few major ones. Perhaps the biggest one with this version is the new State Sets interface. Using this interface, you can record a specific set of enabled settings that can be instantly recalled as needed. For example, you could record a state set with one of the non-photorealistic rendering options such as colored pencils enabled, another state set could show the scene using the default scanline renderer and a third state set could be set up using mental ray. Each of these states could be quickly recalled when presenting the scene to a client. Another way to use the State Sets interface is to setup several different render passes. These states can be nested and can be easily rendered out in a batch with the Render All States command. The State Sets interface also includes a Compositor view (show in Figure 1) that displays each state as a node with connecting wires so you can easily visualize how the composited image is put together. There is even an option to add a Color Correct node if you want to do the basic compositing in 3ds Max. The interface also allows the data to be transferred in real-time to Autodesk Smoke, Adobe After Effects or Adobe Photoshop using a connection link. Once the link between 3ds Max and the compositing software is established, you can transfer cameras, lights, null objects, plane objects, blend modes, opacity and effects between the two programs. Figure 1: The State Sets interface includes a Compositor view that shows all states as a hierarchy of nodes and connections. Layouts Toolbar and Workspaces One small interface change was the addition of the Layouts toolbar over on the left side of the screen. This simple little toolbar lets you quickly change the interface layout between several different presets. You can also create and save your own custom layouts to the toolbar for quick recall. Along the title bar, you can find the new Workspaces drop-down list. This control lets you quickly pick from any of the defined workspaces and you can customize and save your own custom workspaces. This lets you set up the interface for different users or for different tasks. I like to keep a modeling workspace with maximized viewports, another workspace for applying materials that makes the Slate Material Editor accessible and another separate workspace for animation that includes the Track View in a viewport. Nitrous Improvements In previous versions of 3ds Max, you had to go to several different places in the interface to change the background depending on whether you are using an environment map or a background image. One of the changes to the viewport in this version places all these controls within a single menu in the Views menu. These same commands can also be accessed from the viewport label making it easy to switch backgrounds. Viewports can now use a vertical gradient as their background. Other improvements to the Nitrous viewports include support for image-based lighting, depth-of-field effects and better particle flow display. There are also two new render styles: Facets and Clay. Also new in the viewports is the ability to add a Sky Color Map to the Skylight object. This map can be a High-Dynamic Range (HDR) image that illuminates the entire scene without the need for an active Light Tracer. iray and mental ray Improvements 3ds Max 2013 also includes the latest version of iray 2.1. With this updated version, you can enable iray within an ActiveShade window providing real-time rendered results, as shown in Figure 2. The iray renderer also includes a new Hardware Resources rollout that tells you the number of processors available for rendering and lets you allocate the number of processors to use for Production rendering, the number to user for ActiveShade rendering, and how many to leave for the interface. This lets you maximize the processing power to use for final rendering when you reach that stage of the project. Figure 2: Enabling iray within an ActiveShade window provides immediate feedback on the scene. Image courtesy of Autodesk. The latest version of iray also includes support for motion blur, a round corner effect, improved sky portal support, and new materials including an Environment Background Switcher that lets you use one map for the background and another for environment reflections. mental ray has also been upgraded to version 3.10. Retime Tool and Redesigned Track View The Retime tool is a new addition to the Track View interface. It adds markers to a selected curve that lets you speed up or slow down the animation curve by simply dragging the markers. There is also a Retime All tool that is used to change the speed of the animation for all animated scene objects. The Track View interface has also been redesigned. This redesign makes the interface similar to the curve editors found in Maya and MotionBuilder and simplifies the interface making it easier to work with. Moving CAT Characters to MotionBuilder The ability to transfer data between Maya, Softimage, MotionBuilder and Mudbox using a single menu option is a great feature and a new option has been added to the list for 2013. 3ds Max data files can now be sent to Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler with a single click. In addition to a new Send To option, CAT bipedal characters created in 3ds Max that are transferred over to Maya or MotionBuilder are automatically converted to a HumanIK character complete with its skeletal structure and animation. Any changes that are made to the HumanIK character in Maya or MotionBuilder are seamlessly updated back in 3ds Max. This is a huge benefit enabling character animators to build and animate characters using CAT in 3ds Max and then further tweak the animation using the amazing features found in MotionBuilder. Exchange Data with CAD Packages The File Link Manager lets you link data files created with Revit, FBX and AutoCAD directly within the scene file using the options found in the Import menu. 3ds Max 2013 also includes Autodesk DirectConnect, which allows support for a broad range of CAD files including AutoCAD, Inventor, Alias, SolidWorks, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, PLM Software NX, and JT. CAD objects that are imported appear in 3ds Max as Body Objects. IGES files are also imported as Body Objects instead of NURBS objects. mCloth, Ragdoll and Other MassFX Improvements Several additions have been added to the MassFX physics simulation system including the inclusion of mCloth for adding cloth objects to a defined simulation. Another new addition is the ragdoll structure that works with both biped and CAT skeletons. To apply this structure, simply select a skinned character built with either CAT or Biped and click the Create Ragdoll menu command, MassFX then automatically applies all the needed constraints and rigid bodies required to allow the character to be included in a simulation (Figure 3). Another improvement is the new Multi-Object Editor that lets you edit the properties of multiple rigid body objects and constraints at one time. MassFX simulations can also now include Space Warp forces such as Wind and Vortex, which is especially helpful for simulations involving cloth. Figure 3: The new Create Ragdoll command lets you include CAT or Biped skeletons within a MassFX simulation. Animation Store Within the Animation menu is the Animation Store option. This command opens links directly in the Command Panel to an online repository of models and motions developed by Mixamo. Using the interface, shown in Figure 4, where you can browse for both character models and for specific motions to add to a biped or CAT character. The available characters include male, female and creature characters in a wide variety of outfits including business, casual, medical and sport attire. Figure 4: The Animation Store dialog box gives you access to purchasing characters and animated motions from within the 3ds Max interface. The available motions range from general motions like walking and jumping to more specialized motions like sneaking, strafing and swimming. Each motion has a price tag associated with it and can be applied directly to a character. Hair Improvements The Hair and Fur features in 3ds Max 2013 have been updated with better viewport display and faster rendering. Several new features have also been added including new material options like the Squirrel value that highlights the tip color. There is also a new Flyaway rollout that defines how messy the hair gets. There are also several new parameters for defining hair Clumping and Multi-Strand effects. Other Improvements Often the most valuable improvements are the smallest ones. The 2013 version of 3ds Max includes a huge list of small improvements that could have a huge impact on your work. A good example of this is support for the 64-bit version of Apple's QuickTime. This one bit me on a previous project when the client wanted the animation output as a QuickTime MOV, but my computer was 64-bit, so I had to find a work around. No more tricky work around is needed now. Another simple little improvement is the inclusion of an Egg-shaped spline primitive. It only saves a few seconds from creating a circle and pulling out one vertex, but every little second can count on a tight project. Another wonderful addition is that the Array dialog box is now modeless, so you can see the results without having to close and reopen the dialog box. Models that deformed a lot during animation such as a character skin can be dramatically sped up by applying the new gPoly format. This format is the same format that the software uses internally resulting in a much faster playback. This gPoly format works especially well on meshes whose topology doesn't change. Another key, under-the-hood improvement is that the 3ds Max 2013 is fully Unicode-compliant, which enables multi-language support within a single program. This lets users switch their language choice on the fly. However, Unicode support is only available running under Windows 7. Running 3ds Max on Windows XP is available in English only. Finally of note is the new feature that lets you work with 3ds Max using the Maya navigation commands. Once the Maya Interaction Mode preference is enabled, users can use the Maya commands to navigate the viewports and to position objects. Summary Although I don't see ground shattering features in this latest release, the cumulative effect of all these small and mid-sized improvements is a software package that is easier to use than ever. The ability to seamlessly move CAT characters between 3ds Max and MotionBuilder along with the gPoly format and the ragdoll structures are huge for game developers and support for the major CAD packages opens up 3ds Max to all kinds of new data that required multiple translations before. 3ds Max 2013 and 3ds Max Design 2013 are both available as a stand-alone products. 3ds Max 2013 is also available as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite, bundled with Maya, Mudbox, MotionBuilder, Softimage, and Sketchbook Designer. For more information on 3ds Max 2013, visit the Max product pages on Autodesk's web site at http://usa.autodesk.com. A free trial version of 3ds Max is also available at www.autodesk.com/3dsmaxtrial.
  5. With the exception of Sid Meier's keynote, all the rest of the keynotes were linked to conference tracks, which were much more sporadically attended. The one big conference wide keynote was fairly well attended, but it was held in a much smaller hall. The title of Sid Meier's keynote was The Psychology of Game Design (Everything you Know is Wrong). Sid's talk focused on how a player's psychology enters into gameplay and as designers, we often miss these important clues. This is evident in many ways such as the Winning Paradox where the player expects to win the game everytime. Sid commented that he's never received letters when a game was won by a player. The reward and punishment mechanic is also an important place to pay attention to the player's psychological reactions. The player never questions when gifts are given in the game, but if something bad happens, they think that the game is broken or cheating. The key is to explain why a punishment happens. Sid then spoke on what he called the "Unholy Alliance," which is the bond between the player and the designer. He cited an humorous example from Civilation Revolutions where the player complained when they lost a battle with 3 to 1 odds in their favor. They felt that with those odds they shouldn't have lost. They also didn't complain when the 3 to 1 odds where against them and they won. They accepted a lose when the odds were 2 to 1, but not when it was 20 to 10. The game needed to be changed to compensate in order to maintain a suspension of disbelief. Sid then spoke about several game decisions that were bad decisions in a section of the presentation called, "My Bad." These included creating a real-time Civilization, the Dinos games and Civ network.
  6. The IGDA/Gamedev sponsored party at Jillians was a huge success last night. The room was packed and there was a line waiting to get in. All attendees seemed to be enjoying themselves. Thanks for the sponsors for making this event enjoyable.
  7. I had a chance to meet with Brad Peebler and Bob Bennett or Luxology on Thusday. These two geniuses spoke about the plans at Luxology to create and distribute high-end vertical kits based on their award-winning modo software. The plan is to use modo's advanced modeling, rendering and rigging systems to create a set of presets and controls that are focused on high-end users. For example, Luxology just announced the availablity of SLIK, the Studio Lighting & Illumination Kit. This kit includes all the tools that studio lighters would use based on real-world photography systems. Within the kit are all the meshes, backgrounds, HDR images, lighting setups and controls that you need. This enables digital artists that are familiar with the tools of the trade to use the tools they are familiar without having to learn a ton about some 3D package. It also lets they gradually get into 3D using a familiar system. Other kits include the Splash kit for creating water splash effects and watch for other kits in the future.
  8. In a session called, Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design, Peter Molyneux and Josh Atkins from Lionhead Studios showcased the new design elements for Fable III. Peter started the presentation by describing why he loves RPG games so much. The problems with RPGs is that they are hard to market. Fable has been evolving from a traditional RPG to an action/adventure type of game and many of the design decisions are causing this evolution. In looking at the current design of Fable and Fable II, the team looked closely at what was working and key to the success of those games. These elements included the ability to morph, the face that every choice had a consequence, and finally the drama and emotion. But, the team also had some analysis that stated that over 60 percent of the players used less than 50 percent of the game features. This means that the team built a lot of content that was never used. The key design goals for Fable III included the following: simplify the interface, reduce player complexity and amplify the emotional connection. To simplify the interface, the team has replaced the 2D GUI with a 3D world that allows the player to move about a dressing room and access a 3D butler character to aid in changing clothes and customizing the character. The team has also removed the health bar and replaced it with a visual that shows when the character is near death. The front end has also been redesigned to be simple and clear. To accomplish the goal of reducing the player complexity, the team has worked to clarify morphing. This is done by allowing the weapons to morph. Many female players complained in Fable II that their character looked like a European shotputter. In Fable III, the design is to let the weapon that yielded have an impact on the character. For example, if a character swings a sword, then they will naturally become stronger and larger, but magic users will be more agile and slimmer. Another design change to make the player complexity simplier is that experience will be represented by the number of followers that you have. If your actions upset others then you will lose followers and vice versa. For the emotional connection, the team found that the dog in Fable II was a strong bond. To create even more connection to the characters, the design team has introduced the concept of touch. Using touch, you can comfort a child or take them by the hand. Another emotional connection is the story itself. In Fable III, the player becomes king about halfway through the story and this feeling of power will be a strong feeling. It also provides a means in the story that you need to answer for all the promises that you've made in your journeys, which could make you gain or lose followers.
  9. Expo Hall Open

    The GDC Expo opened early Thursday which is a day later than previous years. The expo will extend into Saturday which makes it so more local people can attend I assume. Although the expo feels large, I think it is actually quite smaller than years past. The expo hall includes the game pavillion and the business suites all together, which makes it feel bigger than it is. Most of the regulars are here, but several are missing or have cancelled. There still are a number of interesting displays. It seems like one area of growth is in the reps from foreign game communities. Germany had a huge booth showcasing the work being done in that country.
  10. Daniel Cook presented a session looking at the opportunity to be found in both Flash and social game development. He compared Flash games to peanut butter and social games to chocolate and combining the two yields a tasty treat. He then presented the current state of both social games and Flash portals. He then went into more details on the specific opportunities available via these Flash portals. Although there are over 30,000 different Flash portals available online, he presented several key techniques to use in order to succeed in these aggressive sites. If you make good games and follow some key critical steps such as testing your game before posting it, then you should be able to get a good rating and quickly distinguish yourself from other games on the site. In conclusion, he stated that Flash portals are yound and underdeveloped and are a great opportunity for developers looking to make their mark.
  11. After lunch, I got to meet with Eyal Geyer and Dan Farr from the newly merged Daz3D-Gizmoz company. Daz3D has long been focused on creating 3D character models and has grown a huge marketplace of 3d character models with interchangable clothes and accessories. Gizmoz has focused on creating realistic textured faces and heads for avatars, so combining these two companies together makes a lot of sense. The merged company can now offer the best fully realized characters. The Daz3D models have been used for pre-rendered cut scenes, but have not been licensed for real-time games in the past, but they have now expanded their licensing agreements so that these models can be used within real-time games. Game companies using the pre-built Daz3D models can save a lot of money and still have high quality models. And if the current repository of clothing and accessories doesn't have exactly what you need, Daz3D will work with game companies to make the modeling companies that populate their marketplace accessible for custom work. Daz3D also has a broad array of tools for animating, previewing and working with the Daz models. Dan showed off a beta version that included a decimation features for reducing poly count on high res models quickly and efficiently.
  12. An Evening with Walt

    I was able to attend the Disney Interactive party last night and it was a great party. Attendees were bussed to to the Walt Disney Museum located in the Presido. In the main reception hall with drinks, appetizers and plenty of network opportunities were display cases with all the various awards presented to Walt Disney over his lifetime including a large array of Oscars. It was interesting to see the variety of awards from all over the world and from different organizations. We then were turned loose to wander at our own pace through the museum which detailed the accomplishments of Walt Disney's life. I was really inspired at the number of times that he dealt with and overcame failures in his life. It was also interesting to see his visions become realized by his determination. The time went quickly and the Disney contact that sponsored the event were very gracious and polite. Attendees were presented with a gift bag at the end of the event and I was delighted to find that it included a t-shirt featuring Tron. Perhpas the greatest piece of swag I've ever received. Cool indeed. Thanks Disney.
  13. If you've got a game ready to ship and have found out the textures are just too big, then Allgorithmic has a product for you. I got to meet with Sebastian Deguy, the CEO of Allegorithmic to learn about their new product. Allegorithmic makes a procedural based texture product called Substance Air that makes it possible to reduce textures by up to 99 percent, but the product requires that you plan and describe the textures beforehand. It works a lot like MIDI does in the audio world. For those developers that have already completed a game and determined that it is too big for online, the Allegorithmic geniuses have used their knowledge to create Substance Redux. This product takes existing textures and lets you compress them up to 50% smaller than the original BMPs and even smaller than what DDS can do. This provides a way to reduce the overall size of your game to online distribution to be even smaller without any overhead. Substance Redux also includes a way to view before and after images of the textures and you can dial up or down the quality setting as needed. The product is scheduled to ship in April.
  14. Presented as the second keynote for the Online and Social Gaming Summit, the presentation titled, The Relentless March Towards Free and what it means to the game industry, was presented by Kristian Segerstrale, CEO and co-founder of Playfish. Kristian highlighted the amazing growth of social games over the past two years including the 2 million new adopters. He also highlighted how social gaming has changed the game industry in many ways by moving from a physical media to digital media and from stand-alone game experiences to social game experiences. This also has changed how games are made. Social games are iterated at a much faster rate based on the data being returned from the game than traditional console based games are. Many analysts have been convinced that social gaming will eventually kill traditional game distribution, but this hasn't been the case and it actually is bringing many new game players to the industry. Kristian concluded the presentation by looking at a number of key future trends including the appearance of franchises in the social game markets, a general consolidation of social gaming and more innovation and growth.
  15. Gamedev.net dinner

    On Tuesday evening, the Gamedev.net group gathered for a nice Italian dinner. It was great to meet familiar faces and to get to know new faces. Among a sea of vaguely familiar conference attendees, it is comforting to mingle with a strong unified group. The food was great and the company was excellent.