Microsoft’s surprisingly strong E3

In the lead up to this year’s E3, Microsoft were touting that their press conference would be “game changing“. While I it wasn’t up there with Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone, fanboys around the world would have been shocked when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XIII for the Xbox 360.

The bulk of the presentation centred around the new Xbox Experience, integral to which is a complete dashboard overhaul. Microsoft have unsurprisingly chosen a different direction for the new dashboard interface to that proposed by the community but are clearly listening to Xbox Live’s now over 12 million members. Looking like a close relation of the Windows Media Centre dashboard, Microsoft do not hide the fact that the new Xbox 360 interface is aimed squarely at the living room family audience. The introduction of ‘avatars’ might be a natural extension of gamerpics but on the face of it look like Nintendo’s Miis with a few more polygons.

Identity and community have always been integral to the Xbox Live experience – something Microsoft has excelled at – and they are taking this further in the dashboard overhaul. An integrated 8-player party system means players can team up with their friends across games, media and chat. The idea of consuming media with your friends virtually is something many people have investigated (including me during my time at BBC R&D) and it will be interesting to see if the Xbox implemtation will work. I simply don’t use my 360 in that way so am skeptical at the moment but a cross-game party system should benefit casual and hardcore gamers alike.

It was a safe bet that Microsoft would continue to probe the newly expanded casual game market. Their challenge is making the Xbox 360 the platform of choice for everyone while keeping die-hard Halo fans happy. Not easy. But by stealing long-standing PlayStation exclusives from Sony, grabbing exclusive downloadable content from cross-platform titles and showing some awesome new Gears of War 2 footage, I think the Xbox’s core audience will see this as a strong showing too.

  • 1:37 pm, 6th April 2008
  • bbc, events
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BBC Innovation Labs

Every time I start to contemplate leaving the BBC (its 5 and a half years and counting) I get the opportunity to participate in something which I I probably wouldn’t get the chance to elsewhere. In the past it has been an inspiring conference and last week it was representing BBC Audio & Music Interactive as commissioner at the Innovation Labs in the North West of England.

Lake Windermere sunset

Having shortlisted 10 proposals pitched across Future Media & Technology and Vision disciplines, the teams of ‘professional creative technologists’ (as the Labs’ about page describe them) spent a week developing their idea and their presentation techniques. Half-way through the week we, the commissioners, joined them and helped them to focus their pitch before presenting them on Friday morning.

While only a few of the proposals were commissioned on Friday, both the independent companies and the BBC gain a great deal from the process. It was a great opportunity to meet people from across BBC Future Media & Technology and Vision (it is a big place after all) and discuss problems and ideas with creative people from the commercial sector. The teams themselves gained as much from each other as they did from the organisers and leave (at the very least) with a small pile of business cards in their back pockets.

  • 1:25 pm, 14th November 2007
  • events, flash
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Inspirational Flash on the Beach

After last year’s inaugural conference was hailed as one of 2006′s best Flash event, Flash on the Beach 2007 had a lot to live up to. With technical sessions on AS3 from Grant Skinner and Brendan Hall to inspirational sessions from Neville Brody, Brendan Dawes and Robert Hodgin, this year’s event proved to be bigger, better and broader. Flash on the Beach especially provides a great opportunity for those of us who prefer writing code to using the pen tool to get some inspiration from some very talented people.

I went to Flash on the Beach having not got my hands dirty with ActionScript for several months. Work has recently revolved around Ruby on Rails and I went with the hope that I would leave Brighton with some new impetus to finish some personal projects and give me some new ideas. In short that’s exactly what happened.

There are too many highlights so I’ll just talk about a few sessions which I particularly enjoyed… and weren’t actually about Flash (shock!)

First, I have to talk about Robert Hodgin, even though the work he showed was all written in Processing. Although I saw more particle systems than anyone needs in three days, Robert’s physical modelling videos were by far the most beautiful, especially when driven by music (although the actual video he presented isn’t published yet).

Flock of birds from flight404 on Vimeo

Must play with strange attractors and perlin noise…

Rob Chiu also presented some of his portfolio which was comprised of mostly short films created using his still photography and 3D effects in Adobe After Effects. He also does a lot of print work, including the artiwork for the .Net magazine article in which our BBC API featured.

There were lots of inspirational sessions (alongside AS3 sessions which taught me something knew) at this year’s conference but I don’t want this post to become a Flash on the Beach love-in so I should close. And I haven’t even mentioned Papervision. Perhaps when I finally get my arse in gear and do something with it, when v2.0 is released… In short, roll on September for Flash on the Beach 2008.

Hackday… struck by lightning

I may as well make the joke again – Hackday London has certainly gone with a bang. The antenna at Alexandra Palace was struck by lightning shortly after our talk finished, resulting in the fire safety system to automatically open the roof vents. Not ideal when its raining!

A couple of hours later and we are back in the hall. The slides from our presentation are now available (minus album covers, sorry) in PDF and HTML. This server also holds the various feeds and APIs from BBC Audio & Music interactive (for Hackday at least). You can find it at Be sure to check out our music labeling game, code-named Moose 6 and let me know what you think, I’ll be talking more about it later.

Things to make and do at Hackday

I’ve put the finishing touches on our slides for our presentation tomorrow and am now starting to feel the nerves. The photos tagged with HackdayLondon on Flickr have reminded me of the last time I went to Alexandra Palace – about 15 years ago for a computer fair!

I’ve been reading posts from everyone joining us and its really exciting. If you’re coming, see you there!

  • 5:59 am, 31st May 2007
  • bbc, events
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Find Listen Label at Zeitgeist Europe 2007

Mark Thomson talked about the BBC unlocking user creativity during his speech at the Zeitgeist Europe conference earlier this month. To illustrate this he used Find Listen Label as an example. Skip to about 7m 50s in the video:

Short and sweet :-)

Hack Day London

Tom has just announced the first Hack Day to be held in Europe. The event is a partnership between Yahoo! and BBC Backstage and will be held at Alexandra Palace over the weekend of June 16th and 17th.

The two day event will see hundreds of creatives, designers and developers come together and attempt to build some fun, cool and interesting stuff. To get everyone in the right mood for rapid prototyping, there will be a number of speaker sessions from Yahoo! and the BBC. Tristan and I will be presenting one of the sessions so you don’t need any more reason to sign up for a place! If that’s not enough for you, Tom has promised that there will be beer, pizza and a band. And all for free.

This is all really exciting. I’m proud to be a part of what is sure to be a fun and rewarding weekend! Hope to see you there.

  • 5:52 am, 10th December 2006
  • events, flash
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Flash on the Beach 2006

Last week saw the first Flash conference in the UK for 6 years, and instead of a second-rate Flashforward wannabe, Flash on the Beach has been hailed as possibly the best conference of its kind.

The conference was held in a wet and windy Brighton at the impressive Brighton Dome. Mike Downy and Mike Chambers presented the keynote, commenting on Flash’s 10th birthday and the fact that 100 million portable devices now have Flash Player installed. Chambers demonstrated Apollo, Adobe‘s standalone desktop engine for Flash, HTML, JavaScript and PDF with an impressive illustration of rendering HTML content through Flash’s display stack. Apollo is an interesting proposition and will allow fast development of cross-platform standalone applications utilising well known technologies. It is slated for release some time in 2007. Downy ended with a sneak peak at the Flash 9 IDE. As more of a developer it is clear that I am being steered towards using Flex to develop ActionScript 3 applications while Flash 9 will include more for the designer with a redesigned Pen tool, Photoshop and Illustrator import and a new lightweight component set with much simplified skinning. Flash 9 will be released in summer 2007.

The conference gave a choice of three sessions as any one time and for the most part it was hard to choose between them. First up I decided to see Craig Swann talk about taking Flash outside the computer using Making Things boards, web cams, microphones and sensors. We have an opportunity to play with this stuff at work at the moment and it was great to see it used in anger. Branden Hall took presented a session on the very basics of ActionScript 3. This was a very basic session on the major difference between AS2 and AS3 and while I have only had a short experience with AS3 it helped to back up what I was already practicing. Like Branden (and all the other speakers who talked about it) I feel that As3 is hugely important to the Flash Platform. Flash finally incorporates a strongly typed, well structured language which does not make compromises in order to attempt to fit with the display architecture.

The second day saw the first of the inspirational rather than technical sessions. David Dunkley Gyimah discussed video journalism and while it was interesting with a strong go-out-and-do-it-for-yourself message, it served mainly as hour-long marketing exercise for himself and his portfolio. In a return to the technical, Joey Lott‘s session on AS3 design patterns once more underlined Flash’s move to encompass more traditional programming structure. Rich Shupe and Keith Peters both took sessions focusing on manipulating the display using ActionScript. They both aimed at the basics but served as excellent grounding in the use of some complex and powerful techniques. The last session of the day was Richard Leggett talking about Flash Lite development, something I am really interested in. Flash Lite Player 2.1 is equivalent to Flash Player 7 and is now on my Nokia N80 ready for me to write something for it. The latest version incorporates the XMLSocket class which means we could port our SMS tag cloud to it…

The last day started in style with Seb Lee-Delisle presenting a tutorial on 3D in Flash. Seb is a brilliant speaker and his session was a perfect introduction to rendering 3D objects and even touched on texture mapping. His techniques will be making an appearance on this site very soon. I recommend checking out his work on the Plug-in Media site. Genius. The last day proved to be very strong with two really inspiring sessions from Hoss Gifford and Neville Brody. Hoss managed to use the word ‘c*nt’ three times during his talk and demonstrated his orgasm interface. I could describe it but I think you just had to be there.

Overall, Flash on the Beach succeeded in serving the needs of the broad range of attendees. There was something for designers, developers, producers and artists. My only criticism of the sessions would be that they mainly targeted the basics of a subject and I would like to see some devoted to more advanced subjects. My first Flash conference was thoroughly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the inevitable Flash on the Beach 2007.

  • 8:40 am, 28th November 2006
  • events, flash
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Flash on the beach

I’m heading down to Brighton on sunday for the first Flash on the beach conference. I’m hoping to learn a lot more about ActionScript 3 but there are also some very interesting sessions on enterprise (whatever that means these days) Flash, Flash Accessibilty and Apollo. I’ve spent a few days with the AS3 alpha preview to familiar myself with it and hope to put up what I’ve done when I’ve got something interesting!

And on the subject of Flash, we are coming to the end of another development cycle of the BBC ‘s Annotatable Audio project and I’ll be talking about what we’ve done and when you can have a play with it in the very near future.

If you’re going, see you in Brighton…

Flash on the beach

  • 10:22 am, 25th August 2006
  • events, misc
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Edinburgh Fringe

After managing to get hold of some Radiohead tickets, last weekend my girlfriend and I headed up to Edinburgh. The gig was part of the T on the Fringe festival which meant the city was in full festival swing during our stay. This was our first visit to Edinburgh but I can safely say we will be returning to take in more of the festival another year, it was great.

We didn’t plan any shows in advance but managed to pick up tickets for stand up from Nick Doody and the brilliant Mark Thomas. I’m currently halfway through Mark’s book As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela, all about his exploits in unearthing the arms trade and I thoroughly recommend it.

And talking of comedians, we shared a flight with Russell Brand (in fact he was sat right in front of us reading a review of his stand up show) which was nice.

Amy's bag doesn't make it to Edinburgh but Russell Brand does

Beck and Radiohead played on Tuesday night in Meadowbank stadium. There is a distinct amnesty on noise during Edinburgh festival – I couldn’t believe how it was granted a licence seeing how close it was to people’s houses. They were both totally awesome. A special note must be made of Beck’s string puppet theatre re-enacting everything at the back of the stage. Although Beck himself seemed a bit bored by the how thing.

A visit to Edinburgh also gave me the opportunity to meet up with a couple of my friends from university. Leo and Rob are now living the high life running their own fabulously successful media company. And good luck to them, its so very cool.

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