Jan 31, 2008

Thank You, Professor Yoshinori Dobashi

Professor Yoshinori Dobashi is the gentleman which wrote "A Simple, Efficient Method for Realistic Animation of Clouds" along with listed contributors K.Kaneda, H.Yamashita, T.Okita, and T.Nishita respectively.

This research paper provides the blueprint for some fantastic cloud animation in computer graphics, written circa 2000, and is listed as part of a presentation they gave at the 2000 Siggraph Convention. Siggraph is pretty much the top of the line when it comes to outstanding computer graphics and technology research, so it's no surprise that their method was presented there.

The clouds animation video in our media section is an example of this method in practice, and we all must admit it is incredibly good looking. There is just one catch; it's not fast enough for real time rendering.

So what is a virtual worlds designer to do when faced with something this gorgeous and then hammered with the prospect that it isn't capable of real time rendering?

It's time to optimize the living heck out of this code and apply some techniques that did not exist in the year 2000. After all, we are entering into the year 2008 and our computers and respective hardware have come a long way since eight years ago.

What we are essentially looking at here is the unrealized potential to have realistic volumetric clouds in a virtual world, if only somebody took a stab at the technique and applied it for a real time environment. It's not going to work out of the box, obviously, but we believe with a creative perspective we can get it to real time rendering with little hassle.

This, of course, is going to require that the code be heavily modified in order to make use of modern hardware and techniques. So much of this is going to be loosely based on Prof. Dobashi's research while writing this cloud system from scratch.

Arguably his research is invaluable, but even in 2000 it wasn't real time with probably the fastest hardware available. Even though our hardware has improved considerably since then, there is still going to be required some ingenious "tweaks" to get it in real time (while hopefully not degrading the looks).

This is normally the point where we run around the office yelling "SCIENCE!", but we'll have to save that until after we get it working in real time and after we get a few drinks into us...


Anyway, now you have a bit of insight into how we do things here. So thanks Professor Dobashi for your invaluable insights.

Till next time -
Andromeda Team

Jan 30, 2008

The Importance of Atmosphere

Recently I was in a conversation with one of the companies who are interested in migrating away from the Active Worlds browser and to the superior Andromeda Media Universe. During the conversation, I had mentioned that we had gotten ahold of the mathematics involved for a computationally non-intensive real time volumetric cloud system (as shown in the media section) and that we were looking to implement this technique in order to provide a more compelling and realistic environment.

What came as a reply to this stunned me just long enough to pause before answering.

Essentially what was said was that they didn't understand the need for such a realistic cloud system in the grand scheme of things, and wondered why in fact we were putting so much effort for the smaller details.

The way I explained it was, that since Andromeda is modeled after a full universe, each "world" would truly be a spherical planet located in a 3D coordinate of space. By doing this, each planet would need atmospheric effects to increase it's realism and plausibility overall.

Part of the atmospherics is the inclusion of a volumetric clouds system so that when you are moving through the higher altitudes and into space you would not be passing through flat textures merely hung in the sky for the illusion of clouds, but instead you would pass through levels of volumetric clouds in a 3D space which were ultimately created using an optimized metaballs system of fluid dynamics.

Of course there exists in the sky manager for the planet the ability to set the axis, tilt and rotation of a planet as well as a planet size in order to tell the browser how to accurately represent the planet when seen. Along with that is also the Day|Night system of control since this process is a given and built in (whereas in an Active Worlds environment this process is crudely implemented through an externally running bot).

Furthermore, aside from the practicality of realistic volumetric clouds, there exists a nuance in the environment which is required in order to increase the immersion to the user. Realistic cloud cover is obviously one of those things that you take for granted in real life, but in a virtual worlds system shoddy cloud cover (flat textures scrolling across the sky or just a static skydome) really stand out like a sore thumb.

With this in mind, you can see up front how companies are thinking completely business minded with these technologies and completely ignore the need to improve them for the sake of the user and for a better overall experience.

A little bit of research will find that Linden Labs themselves are integrating a type of atmospheric system into their browser, but their approach is a bit weak. Instead of making a system from scratch where they could ultimately improve or create better ways to implement it, they have reached a turning point in their existence.

There comes a time in a technology company's life when they simply stop coding advancements and begin buying other companies that have already made them. While I am not against this, I do believe that this method of acquiring resources is a bit on the lazy side and severely stunts the advancement of the targeted field.

Sure, you can go ahead and just buy out another company in order to acquire their technology and integrate it with your own, but where is the adventure in that? Where is the quest to make something better in the process? You never know when one of your programmers may have an epiphany while coding it from scratch, and when you start buying technologies instead of making them, you are writing off that section of advancement.

Of course you can always have your coding team working on the source for what you just acquired, but ultimately they are working with somebody else's code and have to start blind. Then there is that pesky problem of not paying attention long enough to realize that since you are only adding to an existing 3rd party source, it is very possible that in the future you may have to outright scrap that section to use a new and improved version.

I have checked out the Windlight system and it looks good. I am also quite wary that it may be just a billboarding technique with a perlin noise animation. Either way I give both Linden Labs and Windlight kudos for their approach, though admittedly this approach is the last one we would have tried considering we're trying to implement a metaballs procedural clouds system.

I have the Windlight version of Secondlife on my desktop now as a preview version, and assuming it isn't horribly lagging or crashes, I will give it a shot to see how well it has been implemented.

Aside from this, I'll move on.

Another video in the media section (replacing the per pixel lighting video) is the video for the work in progress game "Infinity: The Search For Earth". This is an independent programming project done by a 3rd party which allows for seamless travel between space and a planetary surface, with very well done graphics and effects.

The reason this is posted in the media gallery is to give you an idea of what it's like to integrate the planet and the universe system through a seamless transition in order to create the illusion that the planet exists in a real 3D space which is arguably infinite in size.

This is more of a way to illustrate the difference between what it is like to be in a 3D environment which has a continuity between spaces and what it is like to be in an environment that is a flat planet and does not have seamless transition to space - in the latter I am referring to places like Second Life and Active Worlds. With Second Life, it doesn't matter how great the atmospherics look, there is arguably nothing above them at higher altitudes since the Second Life Grid is just a single planet. Even with the Active Worlds browser, there are multiple worlds but each world is isolated and kept to an alphabetical lit by name. There is no universe in any of the systems, except Andromeda.

It doesn't matter if AWI sells "Universe" servers. The name is only metaphorical in any sense of the meaning and does not mean there is a universe to contain the multiple planets which exist within it. I won't even start with Second Life because for all the power they tout, they only have a planet.

A Metaverse, in it's truest definition, is a combination of two words: Metadata and Universe. Metadata is just digital information while the word Universe means many worlds, galaxies, etc in an expanse of space. Second Life is not a Metaverse, but instead if they wish to be accurate are a MetaWorld. Active Worlds at best is a MetaGalaxy because they fail to have a navigational 3D Universe space to house the planets and galaxies.

Andromeda is being built as a real Metaverse. There will be a digital universe you can explore in 3D, and this universe will contain the planets, galaxies, stars and more. When it is launched, we hope the world will finally understand what a real Metaverse looks like, and stop calling the imposters by that prestigious name. Active Worlds deserves a MetaGalaxy name at best, and Linden Labs deserves MetaWorld at best.

Anyway, the Atmosphere video in the media gallery is included in order to show that such a thing is possible and not out of the realm of possibility to implement reasonably.

Thanks for reading, and check back often for updates!

Andromeda Media Universe Team

Jan 22, 2008

New Navigation Bar and other stuff...

So another update to the site in these wee hours of the morning.

New navigation bar done in flash, thanks to our resident flash guy Raven. Still working on making a rotating planet for the banner. That is taking a little longer than expected.

Also an embedded chat box on the main page, courtesy of chatango.com - feel free to leave a message or just use it as a chatroom. Keep in mind your IP address goes with your messages, so keep it clean.

And as the coup de grace, the flash web player is now streaming radio stations and not just static music files from the server. Issues with Internet Explorer and it's inability to understand web standards will probably prevent you from hearing the streaming stations, which is why we highly recommend you switch to Firefox.

Head over to http://www.firefox.com to grab the latest version, because Internet Explorer is an abomination.

Till the next update -

Andromeda Media Universe Team

Jan 17, 2008

Pre-Registration is Officially Open!

Ok, not the most exciting news to be heard, but it's a step in the right direction.

Located on the main page is the link for the pre-registration process. Clicking it will pop up a form for you to fill out (unless you're running some sort of pop up blocker, then disable it).

This isn't a sign up for Beta, by the way, but a pre-registration process to collect all of the interested people in advance. All of the forms submitted during this pre-registration will be used later to determine who will be allowed to participate in our closed beta for Andromeda Media Universe, so be sure to fill out the form accurately as well as give us your best explanation about why you feel you should be included in this group.

Submitting this form will not guarantee a spot in the beta team, as the openings are limited.

Do your best to tell us about yourself, and hope to see you in the Universe when it's time.

Best Regards -

Andromeda Media Universe Team

Jan 16, 2008

Improved Site Design

If you have been keeping up with our progress, you will have noticed by now that the website has been completely revamped. This is just the first step in a number of things we have planned over the course of the next few months before we start beta testing the browser. The flash animation has been removed and replaced by some graphics that are much less bandwidth intensive, broken links are now gone and every link now works as well.

The AJAX feeder for this blog section was tweaked, and the loading animation redone to replace the old animation that was built for a white background.

Our contacts page underwent a huge overhaul and now uses an automated form complete with a working CAPTCHA system to discourage spam.

In the next few months, we'll be making more updates to this website, complete with more pictures in the photo gallery, possibly a few in world videos, and also there is the possibility that we'll be making some custom wallpapers for download.

Slowly, but surely, we're getting things together leading up to beta testing. So stop back often to see what updates we have in store for you.

- Andromeda Team

Jan 10, 2008

Let There Be Trees!

So we've gotten a number of requests for some still shots of what this place looks like, and while we keep saying that it's nothing really impressive yet (as most of the systems haven't been integrated), I will say that the preliminary tree system looks sharp.

Some pictures are added to the gallery section of the website showing off some of the early trees, and while they are pretty low detail for the trees, correcting that is a matter of using a different set of tree textures for the leaves, and throwing a few higher detailed batch models into the directory for the procedural generator.

In the end, it's scalable and efficient, meaning that even in this basic test we're seeing 30 - 50 FPS without optimizations. Our goal is to hopefully see upwards of 90 - 100 FPS after optimizations, but we'll have to wait and see how things go.

The screenshots for the trees in the gallery were taken from the program running on my laptop, which is a 1.7ghz with 1GB RAM and an ATI Radeon XPress 1100. So you can rest assured that the browser isn't going to require a super computer to look good and run fast.

One other thing to note, the terrain batch used for the scene was a static terrain area. Like we've said, a lot of the sub systems aren't implemented yet - terrain editing is one of them.

Lots of stuff to do in the coming months, but we'll keep you posted. At least we can have vastly more trees than in Active Worlds (which is progress for us), and is just one thing checked off the list.

Jan 8, 2008

Andromeda Media Universe

With the rapid developments in our Prometheus project, and now this new website to cater to it, we would like to welcome everyone who has been following the research of VR5 Online for the past few years.

Andromeda Media Universe is the outcome of our previous efforts, codenamed Prometheus, and is an advanced virtual universe system designed based from our years of research in VR5 Online as well as our findings from the VR5 World in the Active Worlds universe.

While Andromeda Media Universe is not available for download as of yet, we will be using this website as our main information outlet for all things concerning Andromeda. Within the next few months we are looking to launch a closed beta test of this system for a group of selected individuals in order to better accommodate our most valued asset - you.

Any and all information available for this project will be posted on this site, and nowhere else, so please bookmark this website and check back often as we get all of the media features for this site online.

In Other News

For those who have contacted us concerning the decommissioning of the VR5 Online server and domain, we would like to thank you for your ongoing support for our efforts. The VR5 server and domain were actively decommissioned in order to reappropriate our efforts solely to Andromeda Media Universe going forward.

For many, this means that the original links for things like Metaverse EX are no longer valid and for others this means that our famous Object Path is no longer available for use in your world. We apologize for this, and would like to point to our current downloads section for the Andromeda site which is the new home of both the Metaverse EX browser as well as the Twilight Toolbar.

AW2EX conversion is no longer available and has been discontinued, as well as the AWHighRes installer. Again, we apologize for this turn of events, though in the future we may re-release the AWHighRes download package as a legacy download.

Current development for Metaverse EX is now halted, and the current version is considered EX Final. There are no future plans to continue this browser's development.

Stay tuned to this website for future developments, media, and downloads as we progress with this project. If you are interested in being added to our Beta team, please contact us at darianknight@gmail.com

Coming to Terms with the Evil That Is AJAX -
Darian Knight