Final Fantasy 15 – a new hope

I am an avid Final Fantasy fan though a bit old-school. Final Fantasy 1/2/6/7/8/9 are what I consider to be great Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy games are about creating a world that the user enjoy playing in, a world full of adventure and graphics to make you feel like you are apart of the story.

Now comes the rant about the last 5 games that came out of Squaresoft/Enix. Online games are not about story – they are attempts to make game as bloated and vague as possible – FF 11/14 are not really Final Fantasy. FF 10/12/13 were not too bad on the story front but they focused too much on battling and how to use the latest game technology to produce some 3D polygon monstrosity rather than concentrating on how to make the most realistic, most breathtaking graphics possible – using pre-rendered CG backgrounds is a much better idea than trying to render something at run-time that looks inferior.

So Square, stop bloating the franchise with online/battle games. Stop concentrating on what other game companies are doing with their game engine. Instead, spend 5 years creating a game as realistic as photography with an adventure to match. A few battles along the adventure will make you appreciate the end of the adventure more but only a few. Use real-life photos, videos and the best CG to create the most breathtaking game possible. Please, bring back Final Fantasy.

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Developers – programming in the future

Being a computer developer, independent of platform or industry, means creating something that will be useful. The onslaught of embedded devices has shifted the focus of programming  away from using low-level API to robust yet somewhat restrictive APIs. An example of this is being iOS.

The recent announcement of Mac OS X Lion brings high level APIs to the desktop. Further in the future, applications will become device independent and multiple versions of the same program will be developed for each device – each with the modified UI and functionality specific to the device. The time will come where you will only be able to use the APIs provided and you will need to make your application stand out with its idea rather than its implementation.

My advise is to get on the bandwagon – use all of the available resources. Don’t shy away from the technology because they are too restrictive or expensive. Think about all of the possibilities available using the technology rather than the limitations they impose.

I have been writing loosely. If you want a more specific example then it is the introduction of Mac OS X Lion. As Mac OS becomes more like iOS and Apple hardware become more affordable,  households will switch to getting an Apple-built computer. The reason for this is that people already use iPhones/iPods/iPads and people enjoy using what is familiar to them. This, with the lifestyle of using iOS devices, will mean it makes far more sense using Mac OS X than Windows. People will be able to use their purchased music, videos and apps across all of their devices so it would be financially beneficial to use Mac OS. The only thing keeping Windows in the household loop is Office and gaming.

Many apologies if I sound like a mac fan-boy, I love my desktop PC, love gaming and will resist the change. But the change is coming so be ready to adopt.


Feel augmented reality

Until we have the technology for holograms we have to make do with augmented reality. If you have no idea what augmented reality is then I don’t blame you – it is a technology not used enough. Just search for it on YouTube – you will get the idea.

One issue with augmented reality is that it is difficult to interact with the virtual objects, such would be the case for a virtual 3D interface. To help resolve this issue, I propose an innovative cheap solution:

Rather than use a standard camera, use a camera that also encompasses a depth camera, such as the low-cost Kinect. Using a Kinect allows us to create a more reliable 3D scene to build our models on and collision detection coordinates to test the model against.

… more to come … source code  …


House of the future – using today’s technology

Many of you have probably thought about your dream house – maybe even designed it. If you did, then you have probably done so purely on aesthetics and forgotten about how you could use technology to make your dream house do things you thought were not even possible. Here are some ideas about my dream house using some of the technology available today. These are the thoughts, you should read them in order as some points rely on earlier points.

Appliances – all appliances will be integrated in the room though not hidden. Appliances would be turned on via touch on the surface.

Touch surfaces – all touch surfaces will be integrated with a central computer. Upon touch, the fingerprint will be automatically scanned and that person logged in to the computer. Everything could be logged and the user can be selective about what is logged.

Voice command – multiple hidden microphones will be placed in every room. The sound recorded in each will triangulate the position of the voice. This location information will be combined with person tracking (using camera) to decide who is speaking. AI will improve speech recognition as the person speaks more to the computer. Nicknames can be given to appliances and the computer to get access to the services of the appliance, such as ‘tv, on’.

Lighting – lighting will consist of many LEDs, which automatically dim depending on the position of the person in the room. This will be tracked via cameras (infra-red perhaps). If an appliance also requires attention, the lighting around the appliance will become brighter.

Guests – when a guest is on the property or near the door of the property, they are automatically detected via camera and a bell noise can sound to let the user know someone is at the door. Guests will be automatically registered when they enter the house accompanied. When registered guest enter the property, their name can be used instead of the bell noise to let you know who is at the door.

Security – Unregistered people in the house will be tracked via video and logged. Security could be tougher by using an alarm if unregistered people are in the building.

Audio – small speakers will be placed in the walls, allowing the computer, appliances and people to talk to other people using the nearest speaker to that person as the output. The same can be said for microphones.

And here is a prediction for the future:

Materials – colour/texture/strength will be individually customisable, not based on the physical type of material, wood/metal/etc.

So there are some ideas. So what makes the perfect house in terms of design? Well, seamless integration of facilities combined with a unique shape and the right materials. Etched or embossed detailing would also be nice.

… coming soon … sketches of dream house design …


LCARS – UI of the future

LCARS is an acronym for Library Computer Access and Retrieval System

If you have never heard of it then you have properly never watched Star Trek The Next Generation or just had forgotten. Either way I am going to tell you what it is again, if only to remind you.

LCARS is a system visioned by Gene Roddenberry – the guy who came up with Star Trek. The vision was simple – to make a system that looked fancy and yet was simple enough that anyone could use it – a simple touch with the finger could open a door, block something up or pretty much anything.

I never met Gene Roddenberry nor the artist who ‘invented’ LCARS, however you don’t need to get the idea of LCARS and why it is revolutionary in UI design.

If you haven’t already, go to http://www.bracercom.com/tutorial/content/lcars_manifesto/the_lcars_manifesto.html and read it all. Actually read it. Go on. All of it.

I am going to try not to repeat what Bracer Jack has said but here comes the thoughts.

Notable aspects of LCARS:

1. Strong use of grid for layout – LCARS brings order to chaos with a grid system. There could be hundreds of buttons/controls but as soon as they are ordered in a grid, suddenly it is very user-friendly.

2. No scrolling, no windows, no menus – except from textual content, there is no scrolling. Controls stay where they are. If any more controls are required, then screens with different button arrangements are used instead. There are no windows to drag, no menus to pull down. All of the buttons are presented at face-value.

3. Screen size adaptability – the problem with most UI systems, including website design, is the flexibility with different screen sizes. This problem is overcome in LCARS using the grid, allowing controls to be arranged according to the space available. It almost seems like the screen size is used to fit the  number of buttons required rather than the UI being crammed to fit the size.

4. Framing – just like old form controls, buttons in LCARS are framed, grouping them and providing a barrier between different functionality from a console. A perhaps better idea would be to use a screen for a single purpose, then frames would not be required.

5. Colours – LCARS uses colours loosely, the only proper use I have seen is making the UI red when under red alert. However, colours could be used more – to indicate the importance of a control (red to blue), to indicate the status of an operation performed by a control (shades of green representing time complete) or to indicate what the control does (for example, environmental controls are green, lighting controls are white, water level controls are blue, etc)
LCARS in the real world:

The closest thing we have to LCARS is the Windows Phone 7 operating system or iOS on the iPhone/iPad. The former having a closer resemblance. Check it out if you haven’t already: http://www.engadget.com/2010/02/15/windows-phone-7-series-hands-on-and-impressions/.

…more to come soon… including ui designs…


Windows 8 user interface

If you haven’t already, get yourself over to http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/01/microsoft-unveils-windows-8-tablet-prototypes/. Run through the Windows 8 preview video and take a look at the screens.

All done. Good. Now come the thoughts.

Microsoft are playing a very risky game with their new Zune inspired UI for windows. It seems like they are now targeting Windows at home users rather than businesses. It was understandable when they created the same look for the Zune and now Windows 7 phone devices but for those it made sense. It made sense because phones/pdas/mp3 players/tablets are devices for consuming resources, not for creating the content.

Make no mistake, I like the UI – I think for an average user it is great. Couple it with a touch screen and you have a pretty nifty interface. But for windows users, or more specifically developers, using windows, it is a far cry from what they are after. It seems like the next revision of windows will be for the consumers – looks like developers will have to wait for Windows 9.

Windows has always been about being practical. Now it seems like they are in the pursuit of companies that target low-tech-savvy consumers, companies like Apple. Microsoft needs to make a decision whether to go after end-users or developers. It seems like they have already made up their minds and are pursuing Apple – good luck with that. So while Microsoft plays a catch-up game, this leaves a pretty big hole for a os for development – a chance for Linux perhaps.

Just for fun, here is a list of what Microsoft should have included in Windows 8:

1. Game mode
2. Notepad 2
3. Python/JDK/Flex SDK/Apache/PHP/VS2010/Windows SDK pre-installed
4. Media Player Classic
5. More built-in games
6. Wireless assimilation of remote devices – so windows can be used on my phone/tablet/tv/etc.

One final note: it is funny how new os’ are looking more and more similar to LCARS with every revision. It is just a matter of time – get excited Trekkies.