Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘MindCandy’ Category

It’s been fun

Posted by Trixter on December 26, 2018

My vote for the most subtle-yet-cruel entry in the category of brain mis-wirings is Imposter’s Syndrome. (It is also a first-world problem; apologies if this offends you.) I have it fairly bad, and it’s gotten worse as I age. It has prevented me from starting projects, finishing projects, and having normal levels of self-confidence. I am, thankfully, able to praise and mentor other people as necessary, but I cannot provide that for myself. Combine this with yearly instances of FOMO and you end up with someone who goes through waves of trying to join the party, only to feel sheepish once they get there.

This must end. Not in the manner in which my friends and fans might have hoped, but it simply has to end if I’m going to be available for the people who matter (including, most importantly, myself). So, it ends today. It ends with a list of things I’ve achieved in my life by my own skill, intelligence, and volition. I’m granting myself permission to be proud of everything on this list.

And, most importantly:

  • Met my wife, became a better person for her, and started a family

That is truly my greatest accomplishment. It has directly touched hundreds of lives, contributed something positive to the world, and will outlive me by many decades, if not centuries.

But this person is going away, and this is the third-last post I will be writing on this blog.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Gaming, MindCandy, MobyGames, Programming, Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »

MindCandy Black Friday Deal

Posted by Trixter on November 23, 2012

A year ago, myself and a few friends completed our demoscene video trilogy with MindCandy Volume 3.  This was the first volume to be rendered at 60 frames per second for Blu-ray; it makes for a great home theater showcase.  Like all MindCandy volumes, most of the demos contain commentary from the original authors, so you can get some insight as to how they got their ideas and programmed the effects.

We still have some left, so we’ve lowered the price for Black Friday (and the rest of the holiday buying season) down to $17 for the US and $19 for Canada.  (If overseas, you can try Maz Sound, CSW Verlag, and Amazon UK for the best deals.)

Posted in Demoscene, MindCandy | Leave a Comment »

MindCandy Volume 3’s First Review

Posted by Trixter on November 30, 2011

Blu-ray.com gave MindCandy Volume 3 a Recommended rating with 4 out of 5 stars, and I couldn’t be happier.  I really respect blu-ray.com’s reviews for their specific coverage of picture quality, sound quality, and extras — the things that blu-ray massively improves on over DVD — so getting a good rating from them means a lot to me.  Picture Quality got a 5 out of 5, of course :-)

One of the things we got dinged on was the audio rating (3 out of 5), not because the sound was bad, but because the audio tracks weren’t lossless.  I agree lossless audio would have been best, but we couldn’t use lossless because of a technical limitation in Adobe Encore.  Encore had trouble dealing with .wav files over 2gig, which was the original RIFF .WAV format’s limitation (the W64 and RF64 extensions to .wav have overcome this, but Encore doesn’t support them).  At 3.5 hours of stereo audio @ 48KHz @ 24-bit resolution, a lossless track is 3.6gig.  I ran into odd random problems trying to use lossless 24-bit audio, but had no problems at all using Dolby AC3 audio.  So I chose the devil I knew.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 Is Now Available

Posted by Trixter on November 22, 2011

After 4 years of hard work and many setbacks, I’m very pleased to announce that MindCandy Volume 3 is finally available.

The official launch date is December 6th, however the first shipments will be going out to people who pre-ordered as early as Friday of this week.  You can order directly from us, from a reseller in your hemisphere, or from Amazon.

I’d like to thank the entire MindCandy crew past and present for getting “that  demodvd project” to this point.  From capturing some clips of a Capacala demo in 1996, to a professional Blu-ray in 2011 with over 3.5 hours of demos and 7 hours of extras, it’s been a long great ride.

And special thanks to my family, for putting up with me and my hobby :-)

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 12 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 sent to replicators

Posted by Trixter on October 14, 2011

After 3+ years of setbacks, MindCandy 3 was sent to the replicators ths morning.  Assuming there are no further issues, we should be shipping at the end of the month!

Update: As corrected by Dan, pre-orders before Black Friday and launch in December.  Assuming no problems at the replicator, of course.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

Blu-ray media size mismatches

Posted by Trixter on October 3, 2011

This weekend, I finished the second (and hopefully final) Blu-ray release candidate for MindCandy 3.  (The DVD-9 is already final.)  Some major tweaks involved normalizing the audio across the entire thing, and a minor tweak was to re-encode the main video at a higher quality, so it could grow larger, so it would need to be split across layers, so that the disc is more compatible with old hardware players (it seems that if you’re going to do a layer break on a Blu-ray, it should be in the largest file, as there is apparently a minimum acceptable filesize for the break).  The size of the disc grew to about 46GiB, but since a Blu-ray is 46.6GiB, we were still under (by a hair).

Well, imagine my surprise when I tried to burn it to my rewritable test disc and saw this:

Considering our premastering tool is highly accurate, and hadn’t shown any errors when I was premastering the project, this was confusing.  Fifteen minutes of research didn’t pull up anything concrete other than someone claiming that BD-RE discs take a few hundred meg as “reserve space”, whatever that means.

Rather than trust tha interwebz, I decided to check the media sizes of my rewritable BD-RE DL (50G) disc, and a regular BD-R DL (50G) blank using the media information window of ImgBurn.  Results:

BD-RE DL: Sectors: 23,652,352, Size: 48,440,016,896 bytes
BD-R DL:  Sectors: 24,438,784, Size: 50,050,629,632 bytes

Well look at that:  A rewritable dual-layer blu-ray has nearly 1.5 gig less available space than a regular blank.

Now you know!

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy | Leave a Comment »

MPEG-2 Encoding, The OCD Way

Posted by Trixter on September 17, 2011

Remember that AssemblyTV advert that said we would ship MindCandy 3 in September?  We won’t, because we found several bugs in the first release candidate that we’re fixing.  In one instance, a Samsung BD-P1000 (a very early player) wouldn’t even get to the main menu!  So we’re going back and doing more compatibility fixes and testing, and adding a few missing features along the way (like pop-up menus for the NVScene talks).  We should be shipping in October.

However, with the Blu-ray build taking several hours at a time to test changes, I have some time to concentrate on the DVD (and write blog posts).  Let’s talk about MPEG-2 encoders.

Ever wonder what the very best MPEG-2 encoder is?  Each have different strengths, parameters, quantization matrices, sensitivity to noise, and so on.  There’s no way to see which one is best for your source footage until you try one.  So you may be tickled to know that we tested pretty much every single Windows encoder that someone claimed to produce decent results (with the exception of ProCoder, which kept crashing on my rig, which is a shame since I recall it produced great output).  A few months ago, I prepared the then-current 480i version of the main timeline, a thoroughly interlaced 3h29m27s 30i video.  I made an avisynth wrapper for it that presented itself as a YV12 colorspace format (what MPEG-2 uses) and fed it to several encoders, each set to the same average bitrate (4.7 mbit/s) and set to DVD-compliant settings.  I then ran the encoded results through the MSU Video Quality Measurement Tool and concentrated on five metrics:

  • SSIM (the metric x264 uses)
  • 3SSIM (a modified version of SSIM)
  • VQM (a metric that exploits the DCT to simulate human visual perception)
  • PSNR (older, depreciated)
  • The color results of PSNR (U and V components) since the previous four only looked at luminance (Y)

Finally, I took the average metric score for all 376642 frames, stuck everything in a spreadsheet, and color-coded each from green (most similar to the original input file) to red (farthest):

Encoder Notable Configuration Parameters Average SSIM (Y) Average 3SSIM (Y) Average VQM (Y) Average PNSR (Y) Average PSNR (UV) Average PNSR (U) Average PNSR (V)
CCE SP3 CBR 4.7mbit/s (intentionally bad) 0.9562 0.95988 1.14252 34.36616 39.05231063 38.9542 38.53384
Adobe Media Encoder CS5 Quality 5, max render depth 0.96163 0.96772 1.00816 36.35463 39.09635214 39.8727 39.42966
CCE SP3 default settings 0.96511 0.96949 1.01146 36.45595 39.00388083 39.41969 38.96111
HcEnc 0.26 9-bit DC, defaults 0.96355 0.97021 0.98358 36.63967 38.966577 39.57915 39.15758
CCE SP3 10-bit DC, CG1 matrix, no filters, Q16 0.96428 0.97053 1.03151 36.72093 38.86613 39.32893 38.8701
CCE SP3 9-bit DC, CG1 matrix, no filters, Q16 0.96446 0.97075 1.02869 36.75945 38.788335 39.33256 38.87439
TMPGEnc 5 9-bit DC, defaults 0.96324 0.97108 0.9676 36.93709 38.630765 39.53456 39.12228
QuEnc 0.72 9-bit DC, all quality settings on (slow) 0.96679 0.97581 0.9007 38.36719 37.93311 38.11264 37.75358

Some interesting things can be noted from these results (keep in mind that my source is a noise-free, digitally clean, computer-generated video):

  • Adobe Media Encoder, which uses MainConcept’s engine, clearly uses PSNR as its comparison metric when optimizing 2-pass encodes (unfortunately, PSNR is not a good metric to optimize to, which is why it doesn’t do well in the metrics that actually matter like SSIM and 3SSIM, and why it looks worse visually)
  • CinemaCraft readily sacrifices color accuracy during a CBR encode, presumably to fit the target bitrate better and try to preserve as much luminance as it can.
  • CinemaCraft’s default settings produce, for it, the best SSIM metric.  All attempts to make it better by me (10-bit DC precision vs. 9-bit, different matrices, different filter settings, etc.) actually made it worse.

The subjective viewing quality of each of these results was mostly in-line with the technical results with one exception:  The QuEnc output was noticably worse than its SSIM score above would suggest.  It’s hard to explain without showing individual frames as comparison, but there was just something in QuEnc’s output that made it feel worse to the viewer than the others.  The PSNR metrics confirm that somewhat.  I think I must have made a mistake somewhere along the way with my testing of the QuEnc encoder, so I mentally ignored it when making my comparisons.

So which one did we end up using?  To understand that, you should understand my motivation.  I have a history of using psychology in most of my projects to gain a slight edge with my target audience wherever I can:  I chose nerd-familiar material for 8088 Corruption, I played virt’s rickroll composition during my presentation of MONOTONE, the contribution point reward system in MobyGames was my idea, etc.  So while TMPGEnc produced the best overall results in subjective user observations across the entire video, we went with CinemaCraft SP.  Why?  CinemaCraft SP allows you to skew the bitrate for any number of user-defined sections.  I used this feature to ensure perfect visual quality for the very first and last demo in the timeline.  Start strong and finish strong.

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy | 4 Comments »

to the last, I grapple with thee

Posted by Trixter on August 28, 2011

MindCandy 3 is 99.9% finished.  From January until now, it has crept along from about 98% done to 99.9% done.  Why the slow progress?

It is almost entirely Adobe Encore’s fault.  Encore is the only halfway decent solution to creating a Blu-ray, allowing Photoshop files for menu creation (very flexible and handy), multi-page menus, subtitles including a subtitle editor, and other fun stuff.  It also has a lot of help for the newbie if you need it, including encoding of assets, a library of themes and buttons, and most importantly a clear interface.  Coupled with the excellent Blustreak Tracer CMF, you can produce BDCMF output suitable for professional replication.  This is a lot of money (roughly $1800), but the nearest solution for BDCMF output upwards from this is Netblender’s DoStudio, which is nearly double the cost at $3000.  We are of a limited budget, and already familiar with Adobe’s tools, so we chose Encore+Tracer.

Encore’s blu-ray support, we have discovered, is extremely buggy and almost unusable.  Here’s a few fun showstoppers we’ve had to work around:

  1. You can have only 15 buttons per page of a multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  2. You can have only 9 pages per multi-page menu.  Additional pages aren’t guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  3. You can have around 90 buttons spread across your multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  4. Subtitles closer than 5 frames together will choke the project.  (CS 5.5 has an option to fix this, but I refuse to pay $600 for a bugfix, so for CS 5.0 I had to write a Subtitle Workshop script to adjust the subtitles so this wouldn’t happen.)
  5. Any video asset used as a background to a multi-page menu will be transcoded whether it is in a compliant format or not.  This is especially idiotic when you consider that multi-page menus are just graphical overlays on whatever is playing in the background, so no transcoding is even necessary.  Even more hilarious, it forces a transcode to 30fps, even if your asset is 24fps ot 60fps.
  6. Using H.264 video with open GOPs (higher quality in a smaller space, perfectly valid for blu-ray) causes Encore to freak out and decode the entire asset once, causing near lock-up of your computer at 100% CPU across all cores while this is happening.  Working with any timeline greater than a few minutes is impractical because of this.
  7. Encore, for lack of a more eloquent term, fucks with blu-ray player registers it has no business fucking with.  As a result, subtitles turn on when they’re not supposed to.  BluStreak Tracer (mac) or BDEdit (PC) is required to fix this.
  8. There is no way to enable  “title” or “return” remote control button functionality.
  9. Trying to encode a 480i pop-up menu results in a garbled menu (720p and 1080p/i works fine).

Keep in mind that Adobe doesn’t disclose these issues.  (They disclose three of them in the CS5.5 release notes and claim to fix one of them, but like I said, I shouldn’t have to pay an extra $600 for a bugfix that restores advertised functionality.)  So my build process for the last two months has been something like this:

  1. Make changes to the blu-ray project in Encore to work around bugs (1 hour)
  2. Build the project (2 hours, thanks to bug #5 above)
  3. Burn and verify to a rewritable BD-RW50 (3 hours to burn, 2 hours to verify)
  4. Test in a PS3, as these bugs only affect hardware players.  Note bugs and issues.
  5. GOTO 1

This means it takes a minimum of 8 wallclock hours to test a change, and that’s if it happens on a weekend when I’m there to babysit the process and start one step as soon as the prior one finishes.  But, of course, that usually flushes out yet another bug that you need to fix.  I’ve been through at least 20 iterations of this when Encore should have just simply worked as advertised.

Looking back, we should have spent the $3000 for DoStudio.  It was significantly more expensive, and we would have had to probably borrow money to pay for it hoping that the sales of MC3 would repay the cost, but the time it would have saved would have been worth it.  We might have been done months ago.

I wouldn’t be so frustrated if Adobe publicly acknowledged bugs.  Hell, I’d be happy if they acknowledged bug reports, of which I’ve submitted 5 (they don’t even acknowledge if they’ve received a bug report!)  I could have designed MC3 around those bugs a year ago, saving all this time.

Posted in MindCandy | 7 Comments »

MindCandy: What’s taking so damn long?

Posted by Trixter on May 24, 2011

Work on MindCandy 3 continues, and I wouldn’t be posting something if the end wasn’t firmly in sight.  After three years, it is 99% finished and the end really is in sight.  Here’s the status:

  • All the demos, intros, NVScene footage, production notes, and easter eggs are completely finished and through production.  (And the blu-ray footage looks absolutely stunning.)
  • All the group commentary is in, except for the very last one which I hope will come through because it’s pretty important in my opinion, but I’m not going to wait until MekkaSymposiumBreakpointRevision 2018 to get it.  (edit: we got it!)
  • Our cover is done, another masterpiece from fthr.  Our booklet is 95% done.
  • I dusted the cobwebs off my Cinema 4D knowledge and put together an intro animation for the disc.  (Just a 15-second abstract thing, mind you, but it’s better than being dumped unceremoniously into the main menu without so much as a how-do-you-do.)  I also did some background drone and foley for it — shocking, I know!  Don’t be too impressed; I used loops.
  • The blu-ray is finished authoring, which was an arduous process because Adobe Encore is so damn buggy.  Phoenix did some great menus given the limitations we had to work with.  I had to start over from scratch a few times, and even then there are some bugs which will just have to stay in.

If things are looking so rosy, why are there still about 8 weeks left before you can hold this masterpiece in your hands?  One word:


At my most maximum speed, typing between 90-100 wpm with a clear understanding of what is being said, it takes at best 4x realtime to subtitle what people are saying on the commentary.  Because there is a mixture of accents and varying degrees of being able to speak English, this can take as much as 10x realtime.  And you can only do about an hour of it before your hands start to cramp up.  So let’s do some math:  If it takes, say, 7x realtime on average to subtitle, and we have 4 hours to subtitle (main feature+intro featurette+production notes), it would take one person about 28 solid hours to complete the subtitling.  I have about 90 minutes a day to do subtitling, from my train ride back home from work where I can get a good seat and fall into a groove, to free time during evenings.  Still, that means the soonest I can get done is about 18 days (2.5 weeks!) from now.

Luckily, I have some weekend time too, and other members of the group are taking chunks, so hopefully we’ll be done in less than 2 weeks.

I hate subtitling.  I really, really hate it, especially since you are creating subtitles for something that should never be watched without audio in the first place (these are demos for goodness sakes!).  But because we have an international audience, and that audience may not understand English all that well, we are going through this ordeal for you, the customer.  All praise attention to detail!  All hail the customer!

I haven’t thought about who is going to do the translation of the subtitles, which is unfortunately going to extend time even further.  Maybe we’ll only offer English subtitles.  I really don’t want to delay MindCandy 3 beyond Assembly — I want it to be ready by Assembly.  Which is also the reason I’m not going to subtitle the additional TEN HOURS of NVScene 2008 footage, even though it is hard to understand sometimes.  I’m sorry, but really, do you want MindCandy 3 to be delayed until the end of the year for subtitling?

Enjoy a frame from the opening anim:

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 3 Comments »


Posted by Trixter on February 13, 2011

I have free time to work on a single project at a time, and that project this weekend has been MindCandy.  (We’re very close to a test disc (yay!) — minus subtitles.  Subtitling 4 hours of multi-speaker dialog is a massive chore, multiplied by the number of languages you want to have, so we’re strongly considering not doing subtitles.)  But if I had time to work on multiple projects simultaneously?  I’ve always wanted to produce videos about classic hardware and games, 99% centered on the PC/DOS platforms of the 1980s.  Imagine how happy I am to have discovered the following people:

Lazy Game Reviews – Produces 10-minute reviews on both hardware and games, with a touch of humor and lots of footage captured from the real hardware whenever possible.  The Carmageddon review in particular is perfection, having been captured from a real 3Dfx card and with meaningful illustrations of gameplay, including some accurate history of the development of the game.  His Youtube channel is easier to navigate past shows, but the blip.tv channel earns him a modicum of cash and has better quality video, so… choose.

Ancient DOS Games – While LGR covers the gamut of classic personal computers and gaming, Ancient DOS Games covers only DOS games, and the thoroughness and attention to detail is astounding.  Features like tips and tricks on how to play the game, recommending the best graphics mode or DOSBOX settings per game, noticing what the framerate of the game is and how it affects gameplay, and even a comparison of dithering methods in Thexder and whether or not they were effective — these are all OCD traits that I would have put into my own coverage of the material.  His fly-outs are pixel-art amusing.

Those guys are doing such an amazing job that I really don’t see the need for me to do so.  The both of them combined equals a quality of work that I can’t see myself improving upon, which not only makes me very happy, but frees me up to work on other projects.  Check them out, dammit!

PS: I found I have a true doppleganger over on tumblr.  We have very much in common — moreso were I lesbian.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment, Gaming, MindCandy, Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »