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This weekend, UMBC will be one of 320 sites from 65 countries around the world participating in Global Game Jam 2013. This year’s theme is announced at 5pm local time on Friday, and teams all over the world work all weekend to build games around the theme. If you want to participate you can sign up through the Global Game Jam global organization. UMBC’s site is full, but there are other sites in the MD/VA area for those interested in participating. You’ll be able to track our progress on twitter (#ggj13 for global twitter feed, #umbcggj for UMBC), and on our live streaming feed (to be announced here when the game jam begins).

For those signed up for the UMBC site, here are some basic details on what to expect Friday.

  • We’ve got a talk about the Corona mobile game SDK at 4:30 Friday.
  • The main GGJ activities start at 5:00 this Friday, and will conclude by 5:00 on Sunday.
  • The UMBC site will be closing down from 11pm-7am Friday and Saturday night. Do not plan on being able to spend the night in the lab.
  • We’ll be in the GAIM lab, room 005 in the Engineering building. For those not already on campus, there are campus maps online.
  • Permit (not visitor) parking spots are free after 3:30 Friday and through the weekend.
  • Thanks to a generous donation from Next Century Corporation, we’ll have food for all participants all weekend.



OnyxFest is an independent game showcase, with networking opportunities, presentations by area indie game developers, and games to try. It will be Saturday, February 2nd from 10:00-3:00 in the Gameroom in the UMBC Commons. Details on the facebook event page.

Make plans to come to the 2012 UMBC Digital Entertainment Conference (DEC) on Saturday, April 28th, starting at 10am in UMBC Lecture Hall 1. This day long event is organized by the UMBC Game Developers Club, and sponsored this year by Zynga.

The DEC is open to anyone, and features an all-star lineup of speakers from Firaxis Games, Zynga East, Pure Bang, and Mythic Entertainment. Whether you are a High School student, go to UMBC or another University, or are already working in a different industry, you are sure find interesting information about how the games industry works, how some current developers got started, and what they do. If you are a game developer, you are sure to find High School students, UMBC students and students from other Universities who are interested in jobs in the games industry.


10 AM Barry Caudill, Director of Gameplay Development at Firaxis
11 AM Tim Train, Studio Manager at Zynga East
12 PM Lunch Break
1 PM Eric Jordan, Programmer at Firaxis
2 PM Ben Walsh, CEO of Pure Bang Games
3 PM Brian Johnson, Director of Online Operations at Mythic Entertainment

If you are unfamiliar with the UMBC campus, there’s a convenient online map. Note that permit parking spots on campus are free over the weekend, so only head like a lemming to the visitor meter spots if you like spending quarters.

The Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day is a great tradition at UMBC. It celebrates creative work done by UMBC undergraduates through posters and presentations. This year’s is Wednesday April 25th.

The game developers club has long presented their creative works at URCAD. This year, we’ve got an extra dose of game. The featured alumni speaker is Joshua Barczak. Josh is currently a Senior Graphics Engineer at Firaxis Games. He got his BS (CMSC 2003) and MS (CMSC 2006) at UMBC. His talk is during the general session, 12-1 in UC 312. Be sure to check it out if you can!

UMBC has earned an Honorable Mention on The Princeton Review’s third annual list of undergraduate schools to study game design, placing it in the top 32 undergraduate schools for game design and development in the U.S. and Canada.

The list, “Top Schools To Study Video Game Design For 2012,” salutes 50 institutions (32 undergraduate and 18 graduate) for their outstanding game design and development programs.

Compiled by The Princeton Review, one of America’s best-known education services companies, the 2012 list names 10 undergraduate and 10 graduate schools in ranked order and 22 undergraduate and 8 graduate schools as Honorable Mentions. The list is published on The Princeton Review’s website at www.princetonreview.com/game-design.aspx.

The Princeton Review chose the schools based on a survey it conducted in the 2011-12 academic year of administrators at 150 institutions offering video game design coursework and/or degrees in the United States and Canada. The survey, which included more than 50 questions, covered a wide range of topics from academics, curriculum, and faculty credentials to graduates’ employment and career achievements. School selections were based on a comprehensive analysis of data that analyzed the quality of the curriculum, faculty, facilities, and infrastructure, plus the school’s scholarships, financial aid and career services.

Said Robert Franek, Princeton Review Senior VP/Publisher, “It has long been our mission to help students find – and get into – the schools best for them to purse their interests and develop their talents. For the burgeoning number of students aspiring to become game designers, we highly recommend UMBC as one of the best and most innovate institutions to study and succeed in this exciting field. We also salute the faculty and administrators at UMBC and the other schools on our 2012 list for their extraordinary programs and commitment to students. “

We have a streaming feed from the Global Game Jam at UMBC at www.ustream.tv/channel/umbc-ggj

Check it out!

UMBC computer science students should have gotten an email from me including the game development track classes this Spring. A few of those could be of interest to area game developers as well. There are options to take UMBC classes as either a graduate or undergraduate non-degree-seeking student. The ones I think could be particularly interesting to those of you already working in the industry:

  • CMSC 483 / CMSC 691 Parallel Programming (MW 5:30-6:45)
    This is probably the most appealing, at least among the PC game segment. We’ve been named an NVIDIA CUDA Teaching Center, and will have all new systems with spiffy new GPUs in our GAIM lab to show for it. We’ve revamped our parallel programming class to have a significant GPU computing component, though it will also cover multicore and cluster parallelism.
    Prerequisite: a college-level OS class
  • CMSC 479 / CMSC 679 Introduction to Robotics (MW 2:30-3:45)
    This class doesn’t really have a game spin to the content (you build a robot!), but there’s a ton of crossover between autonomous robot AI and NPC AI.
    Prerequisite: college-level introductory AI class or permission from the instructor
  • CMSC 491 / CMSC 691 Graphics for Games (MW 1:00-2:15)
    I’m teaching this one. It will consist of a bunch of advanced graphics topics relevant for games (mostly for AAA-level games). These will include light baking (path tracing, importance sampling, etc.), spherical harmonics, MLAA and other antialiasing methods, texture filtering and compression, shadows, normal map filtering, animation (skinning, inverse kinematics, quaternions), and data representation issues (floating point error, data oriented design, cache issues, etc.).
    Prerequisite: college-level graphics programming class (could be taken at the same time, though I expect that’s more classes than any working developer could handle), or at least enough knowledge of graphics that this description isn’t total greek (aka permission of instructor).

For all of these, the 4xx number is the undergraduate version and the 6xx number is a corresponding graduate version. Typically, these will have shared lectures but different assignments.

New data is out from the Entertainment Software Association. UMBC GAIM is in good company as one of 343 universities offering degrees in game design, development or programming. It’s not surprising so many universities are offering game development-focused degrees. The industry is continuing to grow, with a record $25.1 billion in revenue last year.

Their “2011 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry” report has some other really interesting data as well. The average game player’s age is 37. Game players do skew male, but not as much stereotypes might make you think (58/42), and for frequent game purchasers, it’s almost even (52/48). Also, the top selling console category is action (21.7%), but for PC games it’s strategy (33.6%). There’s lots more in there (mostly graphs and 40-point numbers, so pretty easy reading).

This is not really a game or graphics topic per se, though it does have some connections to implicit modeling. I’ve seen a bunch of blog posts, tweets, G+ posts, etc. about something that seems to have been dubbed the batquation. It’s an equation that is supposed to look like the batman logo when graphed. I’ve tried to track down the original source, but have not had much luck (if you know, let me know!). Sadly many of the posts about this use a low-resolution thumbnail of the photo or a zoom on the graph, so you can’t actually read the equation itself. Here’s one of the better versions I’ve found:

A word on how this seems to have been constructed: It’s symmetric in x, so use |x| everywhere. Each term is responsible for one part of the logo:

Find a function f, where f(x,y)=0 is the right shape for one of the curved segments. Everything except the sides of the wings are of the simple form f(x,y)=g(x)-y or y=g(x). For example, the first term is responsible for the sides of the wings. Without the square roots, that term looks like this:

That gives you the segment, but also stuff outside of it you don’t want. So find a function h(x,y) that’s positive in the area where f(x,y) should apply and negative where it shouldn’t. Then |h|/h is a nice step function, 1 where h is positive and -1 where h is negative. Take the square root of that, and now it’s 1 where h is positive and imaginary (actually i) where h is negative. Use that to limit the scope of f(x,y) to the region of interest. The wings actually have two of these trimming functions, one in x and one in y (shown in color where each is imaginary)

The trimmed version (where the entire first term = 0) looks like this:

Repeat for each segment. Multiply all of those segments together, and you get a function that’s zero along the batman logo and non-zero everywhere else.

A bunch of the posts and stories on this are of the form “this is cool, does anyone have a graphing calculator to check it out”. Thanks to the nasty numerical properties of the trimming terms (with values 1, 0/0 and i), Mathematica has trouble at at the edges of those terms. I cheated here by explicitly excluding the imaginary regions, but this is what it’s raw un-tweaked output looks like:

I’m not sure a graphing calculator would cut it, but cool none the less.

The 2011 UMBC Digital Entertainment Conference is going on right now in UMBC Lecture Hall V. As I type this, we’re listening to Greg Foertsch talk about being an Art Director at Firaxis. Still plenty more speakers to come before we wrap up at 5:00. It’s free and open for anyone who is interested to attend, so come on down!

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