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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!

BMoreMedia had a nice video piece on the game development programs at UMBC. Check it out!

Video Feature: Gaming at UMBC

I previously announced the 2011 UMBC Digital Entertainment Conference, but now have a schedule of speakers as well. Here is the full announcement!

The 2011 Digital Entertainment Conference is coming Saturday, April 30th to UMBC. Every year, the UMBC Game Developer’s Club invites speakers from the videogames industry to come in and share their knowledge and experience. This year, the conference is sponsored by Zynga, and will feature speakers from Zynga, Firaxis, Pure Bang, and Dream Rock Studios. The conference will be taking place in the Engineering Building, LH 5, starting at 10 am. The schedule of speakers is as follows:

10 am – Greg Foertsch, Project Art Director at Firaxis
11 am – Ed Zavada, Programmer at Dream Rock Studios
12 pm – Lunch Break
1 pm – Eric Jordan, Programmer at Firaxis
2 pm – Ben Walsh, CEO of Pure Bang Games
3 pm – Barry Caudill, Executive Producer at Firaxis
4 pm – Michelle Menard, Designer at Zynga

Admission is free and the conference is open to anyone, so come out and take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

Make plans to come to the 2011 UMBC Digital Entertainment Conference (DEC) on Saturday, April 30th, starting at 10am in UMBC Lecture Hall 5. 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 speakers from Firaxis Games, Pure Bang, and Big Rock Studios. 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.

Dan Klein led a group at UC Berkeley that won the Starcraft AI competition at the 2010 AI and Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference. Now one of his students, Haomiao Huang, has written an excellent article on their AI on arstechnica. Check it out!

I don’t know how I missed this, but UMBC made the Princeton Review’s list of the top 50 undergraduate game design programs. Now I might split hairs and say that we really focus on game development more than design, much as there’s a distinction between being an actor and being a director, but I certainly won’t complain about making the list!

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