2022/08/24

Still Alive!

Sorry for the long silence. This year so far has just been too stressful to do anything but work. And because work created most of the stress and drama in our lives, it kinda fed off itself, overwhelming us to the point where we couldn't take it anymore.

So after three years, we're leaving the project we've been working on.

There were specific things that prompted the actual resignation (or more like, the last straws that broke the camel's back), but even if we end up writing about them, it won't be now, only some time in the future. We're not sure we want to even talk about the project we were on - and that makes assembling our portfolio quite hard.

Anyway, now that we're done, we can do things that we actually want to do, like improve our development skills, make our own little projects, spend time on hobbies or just in general, be less stressed.

We have several opportunities, we'll see what we want to do with our lives, but one thing is for sure, we'll need a bit of chill after this whole mess.

Also, we wrote a few posts in the last eight months that we never released, mostly because we were too tired and overworked to think about the blog. Here's some of those, just to log what happened with us in 2022 so far:


March:

We rarely talk about our actual work nowadays, but there's something that we really want to share: we've been working with iPhone's Live Link Face app, based on the Apple ARKit. Connected with Unreal 4, it allows us to use real time facial capture. It works well out of the box, but to make it work the way we wanted it to, Lussy had to adjust many things, and create logic that mimics missing features and makes everything move smoother.

One of the issues with this tech is that it can not separate the two eyebrows' movements. We worked around this by using slow-moving eyebrow blendspaces fed by the eyes' lookat position. Also, shoulder movement was added to the head movements. Honestly, what really sells the method is the simulated physics on the hair.

We'd really like to show you what we did, but we can't.


June:

This month, we got our hands on a Steam Deck.

Nice little machine, and it's a weird experience after the GPD Win 2. The most interesting thing about it is its operating system. Steam OS is a custom Linux that acts like Windows, making independent Windows-like directory systems for each software.

Control-wise it's quite agile, I (Geril) can customise it any way I want, and because we already have a Steam Controller, we know what to expect from its touch pads, and already got used to its quirks.

As somebody who played WoW a lot on the GPD Win 1 and 2, I found the Deck's options a big jump forward. There's many ways to adjust and optimize the controls, it is even possible to add scrolling menus and context sensitive values to change the controls' attributes.

We've played WoW, Hatsune Miku, Fallout 4 and a bunch of indie titles. We've even used Discord while playing WoW, and it worked just fine.

The next step is to figure out if we can use Unreal Editor on the Deck. It's not easy to set up a launcher on it, desktop mode has to be used to add the software to Steam as a Non-Steam title.

Lussy is exploring the hardware's latency with rhythm games, and on its own it works fine, but on the TV or with a controller, there is some noticeable latency.

Maybe the official dock will solve the issue, we'll see.

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Anyway, in the coming months, look forward to a lot more content.

2021/12/30

PIU VR!

Merry holidays and such!

Geril here.
This year was... a lot. Didn't have time for personal projects or anything. Well, at least at the end of the year we had a bit of time to just do whatever, so we're trying to achieve Lussy's ultimate goal: getting a Pump it Up arcade system in our household.

Sadly, we don't have the space or the money for an actual PIU arcade cabinet, so we went for the next best thing: emulation. But not just plain old emulation with keyboard or basic flimsy dance-pad inputs, no. We're going VR.
Well, for the inputs at least, we're not sure about the headset. We may not need that.

So in our time over the holidays, we grabbed one of Lussy's old boots, and attached the Vive controller to it. The position recognition was fine after we figured out the right way to attach the Vive controllers. What Lussy didn't like was that the moment for the actual contact with the floor was imprecise.
Because of that, the next step was to attach pressure sensors to the boots. After some cutting, wiring and duct taping, Lussy found the right positioning for the sensors, and the VR boots 0.7 was born!




We did the whole thing in Unreal 4 – because of course we did –, and used a control rig to make a basic mannequin character mimic the foot and leg movements. It was pretty hard to figure out the right rotation values, but in the end Lussy made it work with the tech we made.
I made a basic dancepad mesh and we reused some of our old assets from our older rhythm game prototype, so we actually have some visuals. Nothing fancy, but it helps us understand what's going on. Can't wait to work on it more.

In January we'll probably have no time to work on it. The start of the year is never easy and now that we have a company it's getting nightmarish. But we'll see.

2021/11/26

November!

Hi! Geril here.

November can be a messy month, we have a lot of birthdays in our family.

Our experience with the Famicom Disk system (Twin Famicom) grew, as we expand our libary of games to it. It's a bit slow — which is something we're not used to from a classic Nintendo system — but it loads. At least usually. Other times we get something like this:

 

We like to play Guitar Hero with my sister when she comes over. We have two Guitar Hero guitar controllers and a mic, but sadly we just can't find a drumset.

Just a week ago we checked out Rockband. Back when Guitar Hero was the hot game — more than ten years ago — I was aware of Rockband, but never played it, because I had no Xbox360 or PS3, so I just played Guitar Hero on my PC. Later Lussy and I got Guitar Hero 3 for the Xbox360 and slowly bought all of the games from the series, and also a second, wireless guitar. We played a lot with my sister, too, but after we played all of the songs we like — and we can't buy new ones —, we started to get bored of it. Good thing that we realized that we can play Rockband with the same controllers!

Now we're playing the Rockband games that got released on the X360, buying them one by one.

We thought about playing the latest Rockband game — the fourth one — on the Xbox One, but because we can't connect our controllers, we can't.

I had an idea. I connected my Windows PC to my Xbox One with remote play (via the Xbox Companion app), and connected my X360 guitar to my PC, so that I could control it from there.

Sadly it didn’t quite work. I could navigate the menus, but the Xbox One acted like it was a regular Xbox controller, not a guitar. Too bad.

2021/10/31

Burnout.

Hey! Geril here.

Well, these few months were quite a struggle to get through.

We crunched, and burned out like dried leaf set on fire. The project we're working on got an update and we've had to work a lot on it to get it to the finish line. We got a little bit of a break afterwards so we've been sorting out all the stuff we put away because of work. One of these things were the blogposts.

So what happened with us outside of work? Not much. Really, we concentrated on work so much we didn't have time for other things. 

In the last week, I learnt photogrammetry, what is basically a bunch of photos of an object taken from different angles and pulled through a photogrammetry software - I used Meshroom. Of course it's not that easy, because the result is noisy, super high-res and at a weird angle, but I can just fix those issues in Blender and bake the hi-res mesh onto a relatively low-res mesh.


After a few tries I realized that this works best with food and natural shapes, not with precise geometrical ones, so I mostly just made food-scans, removed the plate or bowl and baked the rest to a lower res version of the photogrammetry mesh, then put it back on a plate or bowl. (he is basically photographing everything before eating, and he takes a LOT more photos than your average Instagram food blogger - Lussy)

It's fun, I also baked a normal map and a few support masks – roughness and AO – so it looks pretty nice in my opinion. For optimization reasons I also made several LOD levels for the mesh, too.
Right now it doesn't have a purpose, or any plans with it, I just wanted to learn how to do it.

Also, Lussy gave me my birthday gift early this year, I got a Twin Famicom from her! It's an awesome system, a combo of the Famicom and its Disk System. I love it.


We also have a Metroid disk for it, and it runs much smoother than the PAL NES version we also have. So we're collecting Famicom and Famicom Disk games now. It's getting really hard to find a good way to store our games. We're planning to buy more shelves, but without a car it's hard to get them home.
Oh well. 

We hope that from now on we'll have more free time. We're not sure right now, but maybe.

2021/04/29

Oculus Quest 2!

Hi, Geril here.

April is here! It sometimes looks like it's summer, then blam: snow. Oh well, April is the most bipolar month I guess.

We got our hands on an Oculus Quest 2! We already had a Vive Pro, but setting that up is never easy so it's always extra effort just making it work. That usually means we don't use it for fun, only for work. Also, it is too big for Lussy's head, so it gives her headaches when she uses it.

Well, Oculus is the other way around. There's no real setup, you just put it on your head - you may have to set up Guardian or set the bounds to stationary - and there you go, you're in VR. No cables, no pairing and it also doesn't need a PC - it has its own operating system. The controller tracking is inside-out, so it also needs no lighthouses or tracking devices.

Its quality of life features are excellent, too. With Guardian, the headset warns me when I'm too close to the edge of the Guardian space. It keeps in mind where we drew the bounds, and we can add a couch or a table to its calculations, so it understands what's happening.

Connection with a PC is straightforward. You'll need a long, good quality USB 3.1 to USB-C cable, connect it to a PC, download the Oculus app, and there you go.

The controllers are also quite good, especially after the Vive's wands. The wands are really good for precise work - because of the touchpads -, but for gaming, it just doesn't make sense. Oculus at least has analogue sticks, that are standard in gaming.

All good, right? Well, no.

The headache comes from the Quest's operating system. It needs a Facebook account and it keeps notes and information about your location and such. It's super creepy, and I really don't like it. I'm sure they can't do much with my info, but still, Facebook's way of stalking freaks me out.

Other than feeling the cold stare of the big brother, the inside-out tracking is just not as precise as the lighthouse method. It's still absolutely playable, but as someone who's using VR for work too, precision is the most important feature of a controller.

You can't buy games inside the Oculus, you must install a smartphone app and link it with the headset. This is kind of a headache, because I have to jump between devices just to buy something.

What is also disappointing is that the Oculus doesn't work in daylight. We have an unnecessarily huge balcony, with nothing on it, and I thought I could use the empty space for room-scale VR play. Nope. Oculus doesn't like UV light, and bright lights in general, they confuse it. I waited until dusk, and set up the guardian on the balcony. At dusk, it works fine, a bit weird sometimes, but manageable. I played and finished SUPERHOT VR, but by the end of it, it was dark and the Oculus stopped working again. It didn't like the darkness.

So yeah, it's an indoors-toy. Oh well.

Now, what gave me the most headaches is the wireless connection. It needed an app called VR Desktop that really didn't like our router settings. Early this month, we bought a new shiny Archer AX11000 router that is a beast, but sadly, VR Desktop just didn't like it. After a few days of trying, Lussy could finally connect through it, but I just couldn't. I turned on my PC's WiFi hotspot, that basically connected my PC straight to the headset, and that worked, but it had very short range.

But good news, they just released a beta feature that gives us an official way to connect to a PC in the latest patch! And it works without any struggle. FINALLY!

So in our experience, the Oculus Quest 2 is a good headset overall. I'd rather not give away my personal information and location, and I'll probably keep using the Vive when it comes to game development - its precision is superior - but for fun, and for showing someone what VR gaming is, the Quest 2 is the easier hardware to show off. It's also cheaper, which is surprising.

2021/03/31

VERY tired!

 Hi, Lussy here.

There's not much to say. We've been working almost every minute of the month, and the game we were developing finally launched. We don't want to say the name of the project, but we might at one point, just not now.

We just want to sleep for a week now.

But we're planning to buy an Oculus Quest 2 early next month, so we'll have some new stuff to test.

2021/02/27

8BitDo Arcade Stick and the Zombie GameGear!

Hi! Lussy here.

Remember those cardboard arcade controllers that we made a while back? Well, Geril bought an actual arcade controller, an 8BitDo Arcate Stick. At first I was like, "but we already have our cardboard ones... what could be better than cardboard?", but it's really an impressive piece of hardware.

I decided to try it out by playing Tekken 7 - a game I got about 3 years ago and only played once. I was skeptical about how loose the buttons felt, but after trying it with both the 8BitDo and our homemade controllers, I have to say the loose buttons are better. It was really tough to go back to our own stiff buttons after playing with it for a few hours.

Also, our sticks are built with a Zero Delay chip, and Tekken 7 really didn't want to recognize them, so in the end we had to solve that issue with Joy2Key. It was worth it after all, even though it is weird to play 2 player arcade games on the PC - we really should get Tekken for one of our consoles, so we can play on the big screen.

Other than that, we actually resurrected a Sega GameGear!

We've had a non-working one for a few years now, that we started recapping but stopped halfway. We finished it, but it was still bad, so we bought a second GameGear, that was supposed to work, aside from the sound that only worked through the jack. When it arrived, it turned out that the screen was almost dead, only visible in a very narrow window when looking at it from below.

We then tried to combine the two - the old one didn't even start up, so we tried to complement that with the power chip from the new one, and lo and behold, it worked; what's more, the screen was SO MUCH BETTER than the new one's, after the (apparently) successful recap.

So, the only issue that remained was the sound, and we solved that later by buying a sound board for it separately. We now have a fully working GameGear (man, these Sega consoles are a true hassle to keep alive).

Oh, right, and we're playing Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare on the Dreamcast. It's super sharp with the VGA output, and it's interesting to try to beat it after it terrorized me and my sleep when I was still a child. I'm getting revenge.

There wasn't much going on aside from that. We're still working, so that takes up a majority of our time, but we try to squeeze in fun things here and there, when we can.