Posted by: Dylan | September 6, 2009

Did I Die?

It has been ages since I have updated this blog, and I realize that my promises to post regularly are unfulfilled. I will not bother making any more promises about the frequency of updates. It may happen regularly, but more likely updates will be sporadic. Hopefully it will be more often than this long gap, though.

I have been busy with many different things in the interim. School has kicked off, but that isn’t exciting except to state that summer has come and gone. With summer’s passing, the time for relaxation has vanished as well. This year, my summer felt especially short, but it was one of the most enjoyable. From June 27th to August 7th I was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I participated in a Pre-College program called the National High School Game Academy. NHSGA was just one subprogram in Pre-College. There were other programs: architecture, art, design, drama, music, and a program in which students chose two college classes and went through them at an accelerated rate.

The National High School Game Academy is a program that focuses heavily on the skills required to make a video game and how to be a member of the video game industry. When a student applies, he or she chooses a focus, either programming or art. The sections of the program are divided into art, design, and programming. Every student takes courses in all of the sections, however depending on what focus you select, you will learn more about either programming or art. Each student has the same design courses.

Students are then split up into beginner, intermediate, and advanced groups based on their skills in their focuses. The placement determines what level of expertise the student will start out at and how far they will progress in the section. There are a skills, tools, and concepts that students are exposed to during the program. I learned about conventional drawing, Photoshop (image editing), 3ds Max (3D modeling), level design, character concept design, story development, Python and Panda3D (a programming language and its corresponding 3D graphics engine extension), and 3D programming.

I learned a lot from the course. I am decent at art for an amateur, so I didn’t learn anything new in the drawing or Photoshop classes, but it gave me an opportunity to practice. I knew nothing of 3ds Max and I came out with a basic understanding of 3D modeling, which is very interesting. I plan to dabble a bit more in Blender, which is open source 3D modeling software. The video game design topics were the least interesting. We never got into very technical discussions of level design, story, art, music, and genre and how they all relate to one another. Instead, the purpose of the design classes were to teach students how to use a game editor. We used the Neverwinter Nights 2 Aurora Toolset. Neverwinter Nights 2 (NWN2) is a roleplaying game, and its toolset is very robust. We learned how to make interior environments, exterior environments, and how to script or code in the engine. While learning how to use a toolset was educational, and I did enjoy it, I would have rather focused more on the technical and theoretical design concepts. It is difficult to strike a balance between pragmatism and theory.

I enjoyed learning about Python and Panda3D the most. Python is a multi-paradigm language. It is used for scripting and full blown applications. Python runs on top of the C language. It compiles at runtime, and this allows the user to code interactively and see results right away. For very large programs, the code is still generally all written and then run, but I am emphasizing this point to demonstrate some of the capabilities of Python. Python can run interactively because it has an interpreter that executes code right as it is entered. The interpreter is written in the C language. Because it runs through the interpreter, Python is slower than C, so in a real develop scenario involving the Panda3D engine (which is compatible with C++ and Python), more intensive parts would be written in C++. Still, knowledge of Python and Panda3D is a valuable skill.

The NHSGA taught us many different things about 3D programming. We learned about how a 3D environment is represented on the 2D computer screen and the basics of the Panda3D engine–the knowledge is applicable to other 3D engines. We wrote a Whack-a-Mole® program, a Bejeweled® program, a submarine program, and a tank program. The first and third projects were introductions to new concepts, and the other projects furthered the exploration of the concept. Whack-a-Mole introduced us to the 3D engine and the 3D environment. Bejeweled forced the students to focus much more heavily on sorting and relationship inspecting algorithms while still allowing experimentation with environment features such as lighting. The submarine game taught me how to move an object in a 3D environment, and the tank game focused on 3D collision.

After four weeks at the program, the teachers finished instructing us and we were assigned two main projects: a quest made in the Neverwinter Nights 2 engine and a game we had to make from scratch. Students were organized into separate teams for each of the programs. The Neverwinter Nights 2 assignment only required a little more knowledge of the editor–instead, it was an opportunity to get really involved with the toolset and to try to make an entertaining game module.

The final game project was much more entertaining. The project was modeled after how the video game industry operates. Teams were set up with artists, programmers, and a producer and the group was given some design specifications to work with. The team had to come up with the rest. My group had to design a much more advanced tank game which utilized the Wii controller and a three-screen display. Contaminants fell from the sky and the user had to travel through the environment to collect ammo and then shoot the contaminants.

The most surprising knowledge I gleaned from the program was about teamwork and leadership. I was a producer for the tank game project. Being a producer involved a lot of management, scheduling, and collaboration. Talking about the importance of learning teamwork always sounds clichéd, but looking back, it was a very important thing to learn. Developing a schedule and making sure that everyone is sticking to the schedule is a very hard thing to do. Unfortunately, we did not have a finished version of the game. All of the fundamental mechanics were implemented separately, but we could not put them together in time. Our game was also not very user friendly. Our team was still proud of what we produced; we were given a complex project and we accomplished a lot with it.

While many would loathe the idea of learning during the summer, I found it to be a great experience. Not only was the educational program entertaining, the people at CMU were fantastic. Being around such enthused and diverse peers is wonderful, as was the temporary freedom we experienced on college campus.

Now I am back in the normal teenage world. I am still programming, but I am not working on 3D games for a while. I need a break from that. School and sports are in full swing, and I am trying to enjoy my last year with my high school companions. If I motivate myself to write more I will probably get into more in depth discussions on what I learned at the NHSGA. Maybe a little article on the basics of 3D games? I’ll try to write sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Dylan | September 5, 2009

Project Euler

Mr. Mathematician

Mr. Mathematician

For all of you programmers or inspiring programmers out there: check out Project Euler.

Project Euler is a series of puzzles that are mathematical in nature that will require computer programming to solve. You should really check it out, no matter your skill level (Well, alright. You should have a basic understanding of some type of programming language). It is fun and it helps to hone your skills. Sign up and get to solving!

Posted by: Dylan | April 2, 2009

File Sharing and The Future of Media

The entertainment industry is becoming public property. As various types of media have been converted to digital formats, they have lost the sense of singular ownership and have moved onto the Internet, where the content can be easily accessed by anyone. Users can share and distribute files to strangers over network. Long gone are the times when one would need to make a copy of a CD and manually give it to a friend. The ease of sharing files has led to widespread free distribution, much of which infringes on copyright laws and is illegal. Despite the dangers that come from breaking a law, the number of people who illegally share files is increasing in number. The increase in Internet connection speeds has allowed faster downloads and thereby made file sharing a valid form of obtaining all kinds of media, ranging from smaller songs to large movies and games.

One way of sharing files is through the use of BitTorrent. BitTorrent uses something called a torrent file, which is linked to the file someone wishes to share. When a user runs the file in a torrent program the file connects to others who are also running the file. If one of those users has the actual file to be shared, he or she can upload it while others simultaneously download missing components and upload portions they have as well. In order to find torrent files, there are many websites that share these files. These websites are called torrent trackers.

One of the largest torrent trackers is “The Pirate Bay”, located in Sweden. The website had been threatened with lawsuits on multiple occasions but it still continued operation. On January 31, 2008, Swedish prosecutors filed charges against The Pirate Bay for copyright infringement and the case went to court. Individuals, not The Pirate Bay, upload all the illegal files, but the Pirate Bay also does not remove any of them. The question is whether or not it was The Pirate Bay is actually propagating the spreading of files. The trials have finished, and the Swedish court will issue a verdict on April 17th.

Whether or not The Pirate Bay is charged with breaking the law, file sharing will only continue to grow. It is becoming a part of the industry, and those who intend to make money off of intellectual property must adapt. Companies have attempted to fight this growing trend by using Digital Rights Management (DRM), which attaches code to a file that is used to either lock the content into a program, prevent it from being copied, or insure that it is a registered product. All of the DRM code is eventually broken, allowing people to do as they choose with the files, and it remains a nuisance to the regular consumer who might want to move a song from one program to another. Companies will soon stop fighting piracy to such an extent as they currently are and focus on taking advantage of the Internet capabilities.

The music industry is the one being hit the hardest by file sharing and the one that has been adapting to the new landscape the quickest. Success for a modern musician is defined as selling a huge number of albums in a short time. The one-hit-wonder is what record companies attempt to produce, with any long-lasting artists being an additional benefit. This business model is being indirectly challenged as a result of file sharing. There will be a shift away from this plan and towards instead developing a smaller but more devoted and consistent audience. Because files can be easily stolen, the people trying to sell music must find consumers that are willing to pay for the product. Those who would spontaneously buy a popular album might just download it illegally, but a band that has a loyal following will have paying customers.

Currently, a few large corporations produce the media. Numerous TV stations all reside under the same network umbrella. Virtually all artists need a publisher or host of some sort in order to reach the masses, but this is changing. The Internet allows for quicker and cheaper distribution. Independent artists will become more common and they will be able to make a living producing and releasing their own content. For all the harm that Internet can bring to the entertainment industry, it will also bring about positive changes.

Technology has repeatedly mutated and reformed the entertainment industry. It has created new types of media and new ways to package it. The CD allowed music to be portable, and MP3 players made music even more portable. There have been previous crises brought about by technologic changes. Television brought free content to users and from this the television advertising industry boomed. The industry is undergoing a tumultuous time and the exact outcome cannot be predicted. It is certain, however, that the entertainment industry will not crumble, but will emerge refined and vigorous.

Posted by: Dylan | March 7, 2009

The Mind and the Machine (part 1)

I have not written a post in quite a while. I have not been focusing enough of my free time into doing something productive, but I am going to try and follow a more regular schedule for blog posts. If I want this blog to go anywhere, I need to make more of a commitment to it. I need to sit down and write even though I may not always feel the desire to do so. Creativity is work; I need to toil longer.

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Posted by: Dylan | January 23, 2009

This is Not Provable

We are perpetually driven to obtain more knowledge. People will toil their whole lives to discover the reason behind some occurrence, even if it has no pertinence. Humans want to know everything. It is because of this that we have come so far. People started as hunters and gatherers. They functioned as small and uncivilized tribes whose only goal was to survive and procreate. Now, in this present time, we have all sorts of fantastic machines and contraptions. These are a result of people’s insatiable desire to discover and create. Scientists and mathematicians want concrete and impenetrable proofs or descriptions as to why a system works, or why certain things happen. People rest comfortably in the knowledge that what we have discovered is true. But this safety is false. Our current understanding of the workings of our world could be far off from actuality. We might just not know it. The concept of perfectly true is an illusion. Nothing can be proven.

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Posted by: Dylan | December 12, 2008

Innovation is Overrated

The greatest achievements of humanity are always a colossal departure from what was previously thought possible, attainable, or what was previously unimaginable. The most remembered accomplishments and inventions are remember as being radically different from whatever came before them and were the first of their respective kind. But innovation is not the primary reason for the success of an idea. The execution and use of innovation is what leads to success. Just because someone was the first to come up with an idea does not mean that it will be well received. If the idea is not presented in a good manner it will not succeed. Read More…

Posted by: Dylan | November 28, 2008

Cloud Computing

cloud-for-webRecently, there has been a lot of focus on something called “cloud computing”. Cloud is a synonym for the internet, a shapeless and generally unstructured gateway to data. The idea behind cloud computing is that the user’s data is uploaded onto a server, and they can then access this data from any other computer through access to the net. Despite the recent interest, cloud computing is not new. It has been around for a while, but it has just recently become a buzzword. One of the earliest uses of cloud computing was online email clients. AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo offered a web service where users could access all of their email from any computer, provided they had a password and username. There was no offline client required; everything could be accessed from the web. Just recently, it has come into the public eye as the new direction of computer interaction. Read More…

Posted by: Dylan | November 22, 2008

A Blog is Born | Celebrity Politics

Modern Cro-Magnon is very much an oxymoron. But I chose it for my blog name for more than just its comedic value. I think it says something about evolution. It implies that we are a modern version of our past selves, that we are continually evolving and reinventing who we are. Not only does this evolution occur due to Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” theory, but it is simultaneously a result of the world we have created around ourselves. We do not evolve strictly in a scientific sense, but in many other ways as well. Our culture and society change in an effort to bring an increasingly better quality of life and comfort to humanity. The evolution of our society directly affects the evolution of every one of us. Technology, science, the arts, and politics change us and the way we interact with the world we live in. Read More...