Monday, December 9, 2013

Version 7: Upgraded!!!

Version 7.0 is, at long last, online!!!!

And the downloadble version is ready too.  Get it HERE.

I am painfully aware that it has taken almost 15 months for this update to finally arrive.  And I'm prepared for some of you to see it and say, "THIS took over a year?"  The reality is that only 1 scene has been updated and that is the outdoors scene.  The short story about why this took so long is:

1.  My professional and personal life got about 150% busier in this past year.  This project was much easier to make progress on when I had little or no life and a job with tons of downtime / boredom.  That is no longer the case (which is good for me).

2.  This update represents a change from Unity Free version 3.x to Unity Pro 4.x.  I was not prepared for what a massive change in how everything works this would be.  Nearly every band-aid or sloppy "new guy" modeling mistake I made in the previous 2 years of work was suddenly exposed in all sorts of horrible ways.  Almost nothing worked right anymore and everything got WAY uglier.  And for every fix I made, at least 2 other things broke.  I had to rebuild a whole lot of things from scratch just to get them back to where they started.

3.  In the past year, this kind of simulation and technology has actually become a part of my real job.  Most of my "R&D" time has been spent doing this on real projects that I can probably show you in about 2 to 5 years.  :-)

The longer story of what has been happening can be found HERE.

So what's new?

- A lot of clean-up, bug fixes, performance upgrades, and do-overs.  Many of these are invisible.

- Lighting!  The lighting and shadows are so much better now.  And there is actual lighting in the lobbies now instead of sunlight just pouring in through the walls.

- Special FX!  New reflective water is probably the most obvious.  I'm continuing to tweak this and the fountain fx so I expect these will get really nice looking as time goes on.

- Occlusion culling.  Look it up if you care, but this should improve performance greatly.

- New textures in many places.  Thanks to the wonders of bump maps, the concrete surfaces look more like concrete now.

- It's been over a year, I can't remember what else.

There are a couple of new bugs in there, so watch out.  The walking part of the ride scene may be turned sideways sometimes and if you try to enter the Image Works before the scene loads, you'll fall into oblivion.  Sorry.  Will fix these shortly.  

Hope it is and continues to be worth the wait.  Thanks for your patience and support!  :-)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's taking so damn long?

For those of you still patiently waiting on me, thank you.  I thought I'd give you a quick run-down of what is happening that is making the next release take so long.  Firstly...

- Work.
- Personal life (for good reasons).

But here are the technical reasons:

- The upgrade from 3.5 to version 4.0 and now 4.2 as well as the switch from Free to Pro has introduced roughly a million new options and changed the way a lot of stuff works.  I'm sifting through these options and fixing things that got weird in the transitions as quick as I can.  I literally did everything as tricks and work-arounds for the Free version that work against me in Pro.  It is a lot of mess to clean up spread across 4 very complicated "scenes".  Work is really happening though.

- Lighting, shadows, lighting, and lighting.  The advent of Pro shadows has dramatically altered the way everything looks and that requires a bit of tweaking.  In the outdoor scene, the sunlight no longer floods the interior spaces, so I am having to add all that missing lighting in the lobby now.

- I've been changing the way the water effects work in the outside scene.  That is mostly done now.  And it looks pretty cool.

- Glass, transparency, and reflections.  Kill me.

- I attempted to switch from the modeled terrain to Unity's internal terrain builder.  That was disastrous so I am back where I started for now.  Will try again in a later version.  Part of that effort was to get access to trees that will respond to wind.

Terrain disaster in progress...
- An aborted attempt to animate the escalators turned into a big mess in the lobby during the conversion.  Cleaning that up is not going smoothly.

- The upgrade of textures and bump maps in conjunction with the new lighting is easy but very time-consuming.  I am literally retexturing entire sections of the model just to make it look like it did before or better.

- Pro has real occlusion culling and some tools designed to help reduce the load on the processor and graphics card.  Now that I can see what I was doing wrong before, I'm trying to fix it, but 2 years of blind work has made this a big mountain to climb.  I have also removed the fake occlusion system that was in there, which is good because it was frustrating to make work right.

- 2 things that I have been experimenting with (eating up time as well) are better scripting methods that I've recently learned and a new engine for the ride system that will hopefully be less buggy.  These will probably not be in the next release.

And that is this week's list of excuses.  Hopefully, that gives you an idea of just how much this upgrade has kind of blown up in my face.  I'll get it straightened out and released as soon as possible.  I just want it to be pretty again (prettier even) before I release it again.

Thanks everyone,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cool Things Are Coming

It's been a while since I've done much work on this.  But, I really have done some work.  I just haven't finished enough to upload it.  Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to share some news that will hopefully affect this project for the better (and more frequently) soon.

For those who don't know, I work as a Technical Designer at a theme park design company called Thinkwell in Burbank, CA.  In the past year, a new program has been started at work where employees are given time and resources to study a topic of interest (to the employee and the company) in an effort to become an expert in that topic.  We call them "Gurus".  The first round of Gurus just finished the program and the 2nd round has begun.  I applied for the 2nd round and was selected.  I'm very excited and happy about this.  By the way, this isn't secret and I did get permission to talk about it.
At Thinkwell with the co-workers.  I'm 2nd from the left.
Anyway, what does this have to do with the JBII project?  My topic of interest is Real Time Attraction Simulation.  In other words, the same thing that I've been trying to do with the JBII simulation all this time will be a part of my job.  I'm going to learn how to make our park and attraction designs into playable simulations so we can see how our designs are working in a virtual environment before we build them for real.  I'm going to explore many different options, but the Unity 3D game engine that I use for JBII is high on the list of those options.  My hope is that as I take classes, go to conventions, and interview other professionals, my skills will sharpen and I'll get much better (and faster) at doing this.  

And though it is not the primary focus of my Guru-ship, I hope that lessons learned will make JBII a better project as well.  In fact, because I already have this fairly large and complicated simulation at my disposal, I can test out new techniques on it as I go.  

This round has already begun and my research starts now.  If any of you have resources, contacts, tips or tricks that might help me out, I definitely want to hear about it.  And of course, feedback is always helpful and welcome.

So, I'm still here and there is more coming soon.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Version 6.5: The White Room

At long last... the Arts Scene (or White Room) is in the simulation version 6.5 (web and download).  Like everything else, it is not complete, but it is no longer the furthest behind in development.

This room has been a brick wall because of its complexity for some time.  Thousands of flowers were bogging down the processing.  And then a nice man by the name of Deadstar on Facebook gave me the elegantly simple solution to the problem - transparency!  (Witness the epic moment here).  Remember, I have no idea what I'm doing and am learning all of this as I go so tips and tricks from all of you make a HUGE difference sometimes.

Anyway, another major reason why this took so long is that I tore apart every single scene of the ride and reassembled the parts according to textures and colors.  This has made organizing a lot easier, geometry cleaner, and the Unity 3D engine likes it a lot better.  You may not notice any difference, but it was a ton of work and it makes this project better for me and your computer.  The next technical step will be using my newly learned transparency trick in other places to simplify more complex geometry without losing quality.

I think that's all I really did in this update.  It may not seem like much but it was a huge step.  Updates should come a little faster in the future.  Unless I get lazy...


Saturday, August 11, 2012

1.2 Million Lines Later...

I'm a techie by trade and a numbers nerd by nature, so I'm going to post some statistics about this project.  This is mostly for my amusement, but maybe some of you will find it interesting too.

As part of the same nerdy need, I have posted a bunch of "behind the scenes" pictures of the models that make up JBII over on the Facebook page.  See that HERE.

And now, the stats (as of Aug 11, 2012)...  

The 4 main Sketchup models for JBII (outside, ride, theater, image works) consist of the following:

  • 1,242,274  lines
  • 510,694  faces (individual flat surfaces)
  • 185  components (how the models are exported in pieces)
  • 378  colors or textures

The actual numbers are a lot higher because this doesn't account for repeated (or instanced) components or any of the parts that are directly created in Unity 3D instead of Sketchup.

  • 1 year, 5 months, and 22 days of progress
But of course, I didn't work on it every day.  :-)

The actual simulation is built in a program called Unity 3D.  This project currently consists of:
  • 20,892  files (many of these are support files that you never see)
  • 1,153  folders

My research, reference and archive materials consist of an additional:

  • 3,549  files (which still don't include good blueprints of the ride scenes)
  • 873  folders (I'm a little obsessive about documentation)
The entire project is just a little under 9 GB with everything included.

Yep, I'm that kind of nerd...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tip-toe Through Plastic Tulips

The crystal pond lighting test.
I have been very slowly working on the Arts Scene lately (also known as the White Room).  The main reason for it being slow is that I'm lazy.

In addition to that, it has been a frustrating process.  This room is INSANELY complicated compared with every other room in the building.  If most rooms were a 4 and the Dreamfinder vehicle was a 10, this room is easily a 35.  There are no 90 degree angles anywhere and the room is just packed with objects.  My first draft of the flowers was as accurate as I could get, but once in the simulation, the animation dragged badly (even with instancing).  I had to go back and simplify them... and may have to again.  

Original version of the flowers.
One of the biggest issues is the lighting.  The "White Room" is actually very colorful.  While most of the scenery in the room was white (some of the clouds on the walls are actually blue), most of the lighting was made up of small spots of saturated colors.  Each one of these spots adds another level of computer processing complexity.  I will reduce some of this eventually by "baking" the colors onto the scenery then turning off the lights.  That's how most of the lighting in the simulation works already.  However, for test and adjust, the lighting is all live.  The screenshot at the top of this post was taken just before my computer crashed, and the rest of the room and lighting was turned off for this test.

One of the ways I'm hoping to simplify things is by straight up cheating.  I do not have good enough reference material to actually recreate this room object-by-object.  I'm aiming for getting the "feel" and experience as close as possible.  To do that, I'm starting to build foreground objects (closest to the vehicle or important like the carousel and figment) in 3D, and I'm making background objects 2D.  In a way, the real room was kind of built that way too.  I think all of the white on white layering will allow me to get away with this too.  If you watch videos of this scene, the objects don't stand out individually.  It's just a jungle of organic chaos.  I think I can do that.  But it will be slow.  Organic and chaos are both hard things to do with ones and zeros.  

I appreciate the patience and support many of you have shown with me putting this scene off for so long.  When I release the next version, it certainly won't be complete, but I think it will be a nice addition.  And hopefully, I will have figured out how to make it run smoothly.  We'll see.  Until then, here are some of the work in progress shots...

Friday, July 13, 2012

JBII Downloadable

A few of you have asked, so I'm trying it out.  JBII is now downloadable as an EXE (warning, it is 221mb).  You can download the ZIP file by clicking here.  This is the same as the version that runs online, but I have not thoroughly bug tested it and don't know how or if it will function on various OS's.  Let me know if you have trouble.

This is an experiment.  If it has too many issues, I might discontinue this version.  We'll see what happens.  In the meantime, enjoy!